This is Kildare’s third season in a row reaching the top eight and it confirms their tremendous progress under Kieran McGeeney since his arrival in the Short Grass for the 2008 campaign. Indeed they are the only team still left standing from the first round of the qualifiers.
Earmarked as likely contenders for silverware at the start of the year on the back of some brilliant displays last summer, the Lilywhites struggled for the opening six months of this term, due largely to a horrendous catalogue of injuries.
Getting over Antrim after a replay in the first round of qualifiers galvanised them though, and following this latest success over Monaghan – which was much more convincing than the four-point margin suggests – they are now genuine challengers for ultimate honours.
As is his wont, McGeeney wasn’t getting carried away and agreed with the observation that his men should have been more clinical in killing Monaghan off in the second half.
“There were four easy chances missed to put the game out of reach but people think I need to lighten up a bit,” he said before adding with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek: “The first thing I do is tell them a few jokes in there.”
It was a typically self-deprecating comment from the Mullaghbawn man who declined to treat the surrounding journalists with one of his stand-up routines. That comment sparked a few chuckles and if that’s a side to McGeeney that people don’t normally see, it did give an insight into his mood and that of his team.
He doesn’t like making big predictions about what his charges can do, preferring all talking to be done on the pitch, but having established Kildare as a top-eight team, the goal must now be to break new ground.
“I think there’s more in them. This year, people failed to realise, we had many injuries and I think we’re only starting to come back now. What we’ve tried to do is build up a panel and we’re going to need it. You’re always trying to make people irreplaceable but (the next game) is going to be tough for us. It’ll be a real step up.”
The strength of that panel was evidenced by the impressive contributions off the bench by Eoghan O’Flaherty and Ronan Sweeney but it was James Kavanagh’s third-quarter contribution in particular that settled the tie.
The Ballymore man contributed five points, with four of those from play and he also set up the 52nd minute goal – Johnny Doyle sent him scampering up the endline before he passed across the square for Sweeney to palm to the net.
Monaghan bolted from the traps with points from Tommy Freeman and Ciaran Hanratty after 90 seconds but Kildare dominated the midfield exchanges once again thanks to Dermot Earley, Morgan O’Flaherty and Brian Flanagan.
Doyle, top scorer in the championship, had an errant day with the boot kicking six wides in the first half but Kildare still led 0-6 to 0-5 at the break courtesy of four points in the final seven minutes.
They scored six of the next seven after the resumption and opened up a nine-point lead before Hugh McElroy’s 66th-minute goal put a better gloss on proceedings for the defeated Ulster finalists.
“We were in a good position after 15 minutes,” said Farney manager, Seamus McEnaney. “We came out fighting and tipped over a couple of points. We’d like to have thought we could have pushed on a wee bit from there but to be fair to Kildare, there was two 10-minute periods they completely controlled and took their scores when it mattered.
“Kildare had momentum coming into this game. They had three wins on the trot with a comprehensive defeat of Derry in their last game. They’ve very good scoring forwards and they’re notching up 15 or 16 scores every game and when you’re doing that well, then you’re going to cause plenty of trouble.”
Certainly they are a side with a visibly growing sense of self-belief. And that has been the most important aspect of the qualifiers for McGeeney.
“I don’t think you learn that much from the qualifiers you don’t know but it does give players opportunities to build themselves. I’m big on the mental side of the game and if you believe in yourself.”
Kildare: S McCormack; P Kelly, H McGrillen, A Mac Lochlainn; E Callaghan 0-2, E Bolton 0-1, B Flanagan, D Flynn 0-1, D Earley; J Doyle 0-2(fs), P O’Neill, M O’Flaherty; J Kavanagh 0-5(1f); K Donnelly, A Smith 0-1.
Sub: E O’Flaherty 0-2 for Donnelly (29); R Sweeney 1-1 for O’Neill (ht); G White for Earley (58); K Cribbin for Bolton (61); D Whyte for M O’Flaherty (63)
Monaghan: P McBennett; D McArdle, D Mone, C Walshe; D Freeman 0-1, D Hughes 0-1, G McQuaid; O Lennon 0-1, D Clerkin; P Finlay 0-3(2fs), R Woods, K Hughes 0-1; C Hanratty 0-1, C McManus 0-1(f), T Freeman 0-1.
Subs: S Gallogly 0-1 for Hanratty (41); K Duffy for McArdle (47); H McElroy 1-0 for Walshe (51)
Referee: J White (Donegal).