Like Donegal in 2011, minus a finishing touch

If you weren’t there, you’d have missed the send-off Joe McQuillan got from St Conleth’s Park on Saturday night.

A fair chunk in the rickety stand hung around afterwards, as he was escorted away by gardai and stewards amidst the jostling and swaying mayhem.

Little wonder then that Kieran McGeeney was asked afterwards about the Cavan referee’s performance, but he turned the question on the press pack. “Well what did you make of him?” he mused. The answer is, not a lot.

The free count of 24-12 in the visitors’ favour may have had a lot to do with Kildare’s tackling technique but even so, there were so many questionable calls. Peter Kelly’s first and last fouls resulted in two pointed frees and were harsh, as was Dan Flynn’s foul on Mark Donnelly in the first half, as was Seán Cavanagh not being pulled for charging but winning a free at a crucial juncture on 40 minutes, as was the penalty call where Mark Donnelly took 21 steps separated by one solo. But while frees may cause scores, cards change the dynamic in a match-up and that may have annoyed McGeeney the most.

So ask yourself this. Why was Pádraig O’Neill booked for a mistimed shoulder when Conor Gormley wasn’t for a high and hard hit that rattled Niall Kelly?

Why was Daryl Flynn booked for mistiming the interception of a hospital pass when Colm Cavanagh wasn’t for hauling the same player to the ground before driving into him on the floor after the whistle went?

Why was Peter Kelly booked for dissent when Gormley got away with kicking the ball 60 yards down the field in frustration at a call?

Why were John Doyle and Paddy Brophy booked for lazy tackles when Martin Penrose wasn’t for cynically taking out Seán Hurley?

All those Kildare players deserved yellow, yes, but so did their Tyrone counterparts. That’s not good enough.

In truth though, Kildare weren’t anywhere near good enough either. Indeed the real reason they lost was skill deficit. They play a slow and ponderous game that mimics Donegal 2011 but there are three crucial differences.

That version of Jimmy McGuinness’s side didn’t give away soft scores, hardly ever turned the ball over, and kicked their rare chances. Kildare do the opposite on all counts and that’s a recipe for frustration and disaster.

Take a look at this list as an example. On 14 minutes, Daryl Flynn was wide open in front of the posts; on 18 minutes Eamonn Callaghan intercepted 30 yards out in space; on 19 minutes Brophy was in a similar position; on 20 minutes, Paul Cribbin was all alone and close in; on 25 minutes John Doyle had a free 25 out and to the left. That was just the first half and what they all had in common was they were all wides. The previous Kildare team at their height in 2010 caused Kevin McStay to remark about how they worked the ball into the hot zone before finishing. This new Kildare team in their first year do the same but can’t convert.

Worse though is their turnover rate. Last weekend, Meath gifted Dublin 0-7 from throwing away ball and it demonstrated how possession is the totality of the law in the modern game. But on Saturday, while Tyrone gave up possession a very high 16 times, Kildare went to 26. It’s no coincidence that they were almost error free during their third-quarter comeback but while some of those turnovers were down to the pressure applied, more were down to Kildare’s inability to foot pass, their nervousness in hand-passing, and their decision making, be it running down the wrong channel or choosing the wrong man.

The problem in all this for Tyrone is, they didn’t kill the opposition off ruthlessly, just as Dublin did, and just as any elite team would have. In fact Mickey Harte’s side relied on Kildare mistakes just get into possession as the home side won both throw-ups, dominated their own kickout 14-5 and the only reason Tyrone won 11 of their 17 kickouts was the brilliant Matthew Donnelly and Aidan Cassidy’s introduction. That gave Kildare a great platform, but it was about all they did right.

Thereafter, they were every bit as poor as the refereeing and that’s saying a lot.

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