Kildare stand out as Micko’s troops fail to fire

NO goals in Portlaoise yesterday and four teams only scored 36 points.

Typical early days fare.

After defeating Mayo in last year’s qualifiers and running Down to four points in Newry, Longford missed a great opportunity. Their 16 wides tells a tale but a good run in the league was based around a big contribution from forwards Paul Barden, Brian Kavanagh and Sean McCormack.

Barden was their second highest scorer in the league with seven goals in nine matches but he had an-off day and failed to score.

Kavanagh at full-forward is the man they base their attack around. He showed for a lot and won a lot but too far away from goal. He ended up passing this possession and despite all his hard work, ended up with a personal tally of only a point from play.

I would not be critical of Brian at all, just the system. Longford need to get the ball in Kavanagh’s hands in the scoring zone. His partner Sean McCormack weighed in with six points (three from play) but needs to make more hard runs to the sides so Kavanagh can get on the end of the move. As the game progressed I would have moved Barden into their full-forward line and play in ball to him.

Longford have a top goalkeeper in Damien Sheridan, two good corner-backs in Dermot Brady and Declan Reilly and Barden showed great leadership at wing-forward. Only they will know if they really had the belief to win the game.

If you had been away for the national league and turned up in Portlaoise you would probably say “same old Laois”. But I think they are better than they showed.

Most teams would look to move up a couple of gears but Laois have dropped their work-rate and intensity since the league.

They got a great contribution from Daithí Carroll but if you reduce MJ Tierney’s input from frees you have a great chance of beating them. Yesterday MJ got one point from play and no frees. Ross Munnelly scored just one free and looks to have improved his strength at the expense of mobility.

Ultimately they need a fully fit Donie Kingston to give them more presence in the full-forward line but he has featured very little so far and looks a bit under cooked for the Dublin game.

Wicklow were a big disappointment. Their second-half display must be their worst in championship under Mick O’Dwyer.

Seanie Furlong is their best forward but although he started brightly, Michael Foley gradually wore him down. Leighton Glynn is a class act but got impatient and went very deep for possession. Austin O’Malley was the only other contributor to the scoreboard for Wicklow.

The problem was the half-forward line. Paddy Dalton tracked back and won some breaks but they were missing him from the half-forward line.

Morgan O’Flaherty cleaned up by sitting in front of his full-back line. It was surprising for a Mick O’Dwyer-trained team that the half-forwards were unable to both defend and have the fitness to attack.

Although not the tallest, the Wicklow full-back line of Ciarán Hyland, Alan Byrne and Stephen Kelly did some inspirational defending. With O’Malley likely to miss the qualifier match and the way Kildare pulled away from Wicklow, you would not bank on them for a back-door run.

The most impressive thing about Kildare was their physique. Having won only one of their last three first round Leinster championship matches they will be happy. Tomás O’Connor at full-forward caught the eye and looks a bigger and better version of Dublin’s Eoghan O’Gara.

With Darryl Flynn injuring an ankle during the week, Johnny Doyle had to line out at midfield and he was excellent. However I feel Kieran McGeeney would like Flynn at midfield and Doyle working off O’Connor along with Alan Smyth in the inside line.

From a Meath perspective I would be very happy to see Doyle out at midfield. With Ronan Sweeney, Padraig O’Neill, Eoghan O’Flaherty and James Kavanagh all making small contributions up front they really depend on Doyle.

Kildare had about 15 wides and dropped five attempts into the goalkeeper so they have lots of scope to improve there. In fairness they were able to put up big totals last year and finished the game strongly yesterday.

I rarely comment on referees but I liked Marty Duffy’s style. You really had to earn your frees, nothing soft was given and he was very consistent. It was like refereeing 10 years ago. I would have no problem with more of the same for the rest of the championship.

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