Jury remains out on the Lilywhites

THIS game could have been a blowout.

Last year Kildare took on a Monaghan side reeling from their provincial final loss and beat them by four but in truth they were never in any danger.

The week was dominated by talk of the six-day turnaround and Kildare’s showing in the qualifiers under Kieran McGeeney so I went into Croke Park expecting an annihilation.

But what we got was a decent match, particularly in the first half with some high quality score-taking on show.

Ultimately though, and while Kildare have their cruciate victims Dermot Early, Hugh Lynch and Peter Kelly, Derry could not cope without Paddy and Eoin Bradley. They are marquee forwards and the presence of one of them would have bridged the six-point gap and left the game on a knife-edge.

They were relying on everything going right for them. Once something went wrong they didn’t have enough to knock Kildare.

And that pivotal moment arrived in the 19th minute when Kildare were leading 0-5 to 0-4. Derry had a goal disallowed, correctly in my view, for a square ball on Enda Muldoon after Mark Lynch had cut open the Kildare defence.

In a game bereft of goals it would have given Derry the oxygen they desperately needed. Their midfield pairing of Joe Diver and Michael Friel were doing very well up to then and Johnny Doyle was struggling physically to compete.

But Kieran McGeeney was on the ball and switched the physically stronger corner-forward Robert Kelly with Doyle after 20 minutes and this ensured a greater share of possession for Kildare.

Darryl Flynn ratcheted up the physical stakes with Joe Diver and bullied him out of the game by the end. Ollie Lyons was also introduced which helped to quieten Sean Leo McGoldrick who was linking up the play effectively.

After conceding three early points from play McGeeney got centre-back Morgan O’Flaherty to sit in front of his full-back line. Kildare went on to score six points in the second quarter to lead by 0-11 to 0-8 at half-time. With their fitness levels and hunger they were never going to relinquish that lead.

Where Kildare really impressed was the movement, ball winning and accuracy of their two-man full-forward line of Thomas O’Connor and James Kavanagh. They ended up with six points from play between them. With Derry playing man for man and no sweeper, it left huge space for the duo.

Johnny Doyle, with no score from play in the last two matches, will probably find himself back in attack from now on. There is no better man to buy a free. Kildare in full flow take a bit of stopping particularly if they get ahead of you in the second half.

They deserve to be listed among the All-Ireland contenders but it would be unprecedented for a team to win an All-Ireland without first winning a provincial title or a national league during their development. Before the season started I would have expected Kildare to beat Wicklow, Meath, Laois and a Derry team minus the Bradleys.

The big question was could they beat a fellow genuine contender like Dublin, Cork or Kerry. So I can only judge them on the Dublin game. A late quick-fire Eamon Callaghan goal and a point and the controversial late free overshadowed a game where Dublin were four points a better team and that was with 14 men for the final 30 minutes.

So while no one will want to draw Kildare, they still have it all to prove against the genuine contenders.

Derry showed no signs of fatigue and after the disappointment of losing the Ulster final admirably rose to the occasion. They have plenty of players who are comfortable on the ball but lack the physical power of Kildare. 20-year-old debutant Declan Mullan was impressive scoring three first-half points from play.

Mark Lynch still hasn’t been consistent enough for a player who stood out as a 16-year-old in the 2002 All-Ireland minor final.

In the absence of Eoin Bradley, big Enda Muldoon was posted to full-forward as a target man. But despite some early promise, I was disappointed with his strength under the ball and the tactic was ineffective.

In fairness Derry never gave up but nothing energises the out-field players like knowing you have a quality forward or two and all you need to do is get the ball to them and you have a chance of winning.

Derry were never going to win without the Bradleys which is a pity as it could have turned out to be a classic but for Kildare, there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

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