There have been many setbacks along the way but a 100% record in the qualifiers, having previously performed so dreadfully through the back door, points towards a significant improvement in those traits.
That record was maintained on home turf on Saturday night as an incredible 13 men contributed to the Kildare scoring. Yet with so many callow players, the territory wasn’t necessarily familiar, even if the result was.
“We have seven or eight new fellas that are the mainstay of this team now,” said McGeeney. “But it is new for them. To be able to lift that up.
“The negativity and abuse that surrounds defeat, you just have to learn to deal with that. It’s not hard to deal with the claps on the back, it’s harder to deal with the kicks in the ass.
“If that can develop character in them it’s a good thing because they’re going to need it somewhere along their sporting career.”
Kildare supporters didn’t take the manner of the 16-point defeat to Dublin lightly and there were all sorts of wild rumours afterwards of defections and disharmony. You wondered if the negativity might weigh heavily on the youngsters but they showed Saturday night that they still had the heart for the battle. They were four points down after Brian White sent over a fabulous 46th-minute point, but won by seven.
“As I said at the start, it was going to be a tough two weeks and it was,” McGeeney admitted. “They were more downhearted by the way they performed.
“They knew they were lazy against Dublin, they gave the ball away cheaply, nobody had worked, nobody had put them under pressure and they were very disappointed with that, and in themselves.
“We work hard. Everybody’s talking about how we like to kick long ball in on top of the square but we never do that sort of stuff at training. It’s just that type of decision-making.
“Today I was very happy, very proud of the boys. They showed great character. It’s very hard to show character when everything’s going your way. You can only show it when it’s not, when it’s going against you, when you’re low on the ground and I think they did that tonight.”
Kildare sprung from the traps with three points but Louth gradually clawed themselves back into it, with their own prodigy, Ciarán Byrne, kicking four of his five points from play to edge them into a 0-10 to 0-8 interval lead.
That margin stretched to four when White landed his near-miraculous score, but Kildare found two more gears and outscored Louth 1-10 to 0-2 from there to the final whistle.
Shane Connolly was majestic under the high ball throughout and Peter Kelly shackled Shane Lennon.
What was critical though, was the impact O’Connor, Eamonn Callaghan, Seanie Johnston and Alan Smith all had off the bench. In the end, Kildare’s fitness shone through as gaps began to appear in the Louth defence.
Niall Kelly, Emmet Bolton, Hugh McGrillen and the inspirational Johnny Doyle brought the sides level before Johnston kicked the wonderful lead score in the 63rd minute.
Doyle converted a free for a foul on O’Connor before the Clane giant caught Smith’s wayward attempt at a point brilliantly under pressure from Dessie Finnegan, turned the full-back and rounded Shane McCoy before shooting a 66th-minute goal that finally ended Louth’s resistance.
“I would have felt for three-quarters of the game we were the better team,” said Louth manager Aidan O’Rourke. “Ultimately we just fell short in terms of composure.”
Scorers for Kildare: J Doyle 0-5 (2f); E O’Flaherty 0-3; T O’Connor 1-0; M Conway 0-2 (2f); P Cribbin, H McGrillen, E Bolton, D Flynn, P O’Neill, N Kelly, P Brophy, A Smith, S Johnston 0-1 each.
Scorers for Louth: C Byrne 0-5; B White 0-4 (2f); C Judge 0-3 (1f); S Lennon 0-2; R Finnegan 0-1.
Subs for Kildare: T O’Connor for Cribbin (32); A Smith for Conway (42); E Callaghan for Daniel Flynn (45); S Johnston for Kelly (57); J Byrne for M O’Flaherty (63).
Subs for Louth: C Bellew for Rath (blood, 5); R Carroll for Keenan blood (5-12); Carroll for Rafferty (h-t); G Hoey for R Finnegan (57); K Rogers for Maguire (70).
Referee: R Hickey (Clare).
KILDARE: S Connolly; H McGrillen, P Kelly, D Hyland; P Cribbin, M O’Flaherty, E Bolton; Daryl Flynn, P O’Neill; Daniel Flynn, M Conway, E O’Flaherty; N Kelly, P Brophy, J Doyle.
LOUTH: S McCoy; P Rath, D Finnegan, J Bingham; D Crilly, J O’Brien, A Reid; P Keenan, C Rafferty; D Maguire, B White, R Finnegan; C Judge, S Lennon, C Byrne.