How ironic then that, of four championship matches so far this summer involving counties from Division One and Four, it should be Kieran McGeeney’s men who found themselves looking over their shoulder as injury-time approached.
Cork had 18 points to spare against Limerick seven days before while Kerry completed an embarrassing month for the Munster Championship with 17 and 26-point victories over Tipperary and Waterford.
Kildare were sailing in similar waters with four minutes left. They led by eight points against Offaly before two points and a penalty goal from David Hanlon threatened a tempest of an ending before Sean Johnston made it safe with the last point.
“More than likely I will get blamed for that lack of a gulf now,” said McGeeney with a an empty smile. “They did their job. They were going about it very efficiently. They were up something like eight or nine (points) with ten minutes left.
“We had two free kicks after that and loads of possession and the next thing we started throwing the ball away for fun. Any team is going to give you hassle with that there.
In six years under McGeeney, this was the smallest winning margin they have enjoyed in Leinster and the slimmest in three years in the wider championship.
The rule of thumb with McGeeney’s Kildare has been that they either win well against teams deemed to be their inferiors or lose agonisingly against those believed to be above them in football’s power rankings.
Then again, this wasn’t the same old Kildare.
McGeeney handed championship debuts to five of the county’s U21 side and waved on two more and went as far as to suggest that perhaps his older players could learn from the youngsters.
“They did very well. Paul Cribbin and Niall Kelly scored (four points each) and David Hyland came on as well. Paddy Brophy did very well, won every ball given to him. Mark (Donnellan) did very well apart from the one dodgy hand pass.”
Offaly lost this fixture by 13 points 12 months ago but emerged from this latest defeat with far more solace having fared so favourably for three of the four quarters against a side much further down the road than themselves.
Though held scoreless between the 44th and 66th minute, they took the game to Kildare but were guilty of running into contact too often against a side physically stronger and were punished time and again on turnovers.
Still, as manager Emmet McDonnell pointed out, Kildare have been refining their game for six years under McGeeney whereas Offaly are just six months into their project and those timelines stood out.
“A lot of people that saw Tipperary and Limerick struggle like that might have thought that we would struggle as well,” said the Westmeath man who succeeded Tom Coffey last August.
“But we were confident with our preparations and there is huge tradition in Offaly with Gaelic football. We wouldn’t fear Kildare. We would certainly respect them in terms of their professional setup but we didn’t fear them.”
For Offaly, it represents a sixth straight summer without a win in Leinster and the priority now must be a momentum-building run through the qualifiers which they have rarely taken to in recent years. Only once, in 2010 when they reached the third round, have they given any recent indication of an appetite for the back door, but McDonnell was confident there would be no exodus to the USA as has been the case in other counties.
“We would be very hopeful,” he said. “We spoke with the players there and every one of them gave a commitment that they realise we are not a million miles way and they are all into this.”
Scorers for Offaly: N McNamee (0-4); K Casey (0-4, 3f); D Hanlon (1-0); A Mulhall (0-1 ‘45’); A McNamee (0-1); G Guilfoyle (0-1); N Darby (0-1).
Scorers for Kildare: J Doyle (0-6, 4f); P Cribbin (0-4); E O’Flaherty (0-4); N Kelly) 0-4); S Johnston (0-1).
OFFALY: A Mulholland; D Brady, P McConway, S Sullivan; d Hanlon, B Darby, M Brazil; J Brickland, A McNamee; G Guilfoyle, B Connor, E Carroll; A Sullivan, K Casey, N McNamee.
Subs: P Cunningham for Carroll (27); N Darby for Brazil (47); J Moloney for Connor (52); R Allen for Guilfoyle (55); P McPadden for Sullivan (57).
KILDARE: M Donnellan; M Foley, P Lyons, H McGrillen; E Callaghan, P Kelly, E Bolton; Daryl Flynn, Daniel Flynn; E O’Flaherty, N Kelly, P Cribbin; T O’Connor, J Doyle, P Brophy.
Subs: F Dowling for Brophy (47); S Johnston for O’Connor (55); Morgan O’Flaherty for E O’Flaherty (61); D Hyland for Bolton (64); R Kelly for Daryl Flynn (45).
Referee: R Hickey (Clare).