Dara Ó Cinnéide: Sometimes the scenic route trumps the shorter journey

In one of the many great scenes in the film On The Waterfront, Charlie played by Rod Steiger, tells his younger brother, Terry (Marlon Brando) that he needs to be getting up a bit in the world — "You’re getting on. You’re pushing 30. You know, it’s time to think about getting some ambition," says Charlie.

Dara Ó Cinnéide: Sometimes the scenic route trumps the shorter journey

To which Terry memorably replies “I always figured I’d live a bit longer without it.” There is a little bit of the On The Waterfront vibe going on with this evening’s game between Laois and Kildare in Tullamore.

On the one hand you have two neighbouring teams who would detest defeat tonight as much as any in their recent history but on the other, the ‘prize’ for the victor is a tilt at the Dublin machine that is likely to chew them up and spit them out before moving on again to their next crucifixion.

On top of all that, the losers of this evening’s game will enter the first round of the All- Ireland football qualifiers in a fortnight’s time with six of the eight counties present playing out of Division 4 this year, joined only by Cavan from the top two tiers of league football.

Sometimes you really do live a bit longer by having less ambition.

Ahead of this evening’s game, it seems as if Daniel Flynn, the flying midfielder from Johnstownbridge, has become a touchstone for the travails of Kildare football. Having departed for America recently, Flynn represents much of what might have been this summer.

Young, strong and athletic, Flynn’s performances when winning a Hogan Cup with St Mary’s Edenderry are still reverently spoken about by football folk in Kildare. Little wonder then, the sense of fatalism that descended when he decided to up sticks shortly after announcing his return from Port Adelaide in Australia at the start of the year.

It appears from the outside that Flynn has made up his mind that Kildare under Jason Ryan aren’t going anywhere this summer so after announcing his own departure in mid-May, he has come to represent another lost summer for diehard followers of the game in the short grass county.

Flynn is just the latest in a long line of midfield players lost to Kildare in recent times. Since the iconic Dermot Earley went down injured against Meath in Croke Park at the height of his and Kildare’s powers, Kildare have never had a stable midfield partnership. Many have auditioned for the parts but Darryl Flynn and Tommy Moolick (injured), Hughie Lynch (peripheral), Brian Flanagan (retired), Sean Hurley & Paddy Brophy (Australia) and many, many more have all come and gone and it has to be a huge area of concern facing into the challenge this evening.

Paul Cribbin and Gary White are the latest partnership to get to test themselves but there are easier battles to choose than John O’ Loughlin and Brendan Quigley when making your seasonal championship bow.

Kildare will want to avoid going out the middle on their own kickouts this evening, because even with O’Loughlin and Quigley tied up, Laois could bring Donie Kingston outfield, as they did against Carlow, and leave space inside for his brother, Paul, and Ross Munnelly.

If Kingston does go roaming, he is the type of player that could do a bit of damage when he has a head of steam built up so Kildare may opt for Mick O’Grady to follow him and ask Kevin Murnaghan, who is a good reader of the game, to drop back as cover for Ollie Lyons and Ciarán Fitzpatrick.

When Mark Donnellan took over from Shane Connolly as Kildare goalkeeper it was because Donnellan’s kickouts were more varied and more accurate but they need to be careful this evening that Donnellan’s short kickouts don’t cause as much trouble for them as their lack of aerial ability further out.

Sometimes, as Cork found out in the league final, you’re as well off getting the ball as far away from your own goal as possible and asking the foragers out the field to scrap that bit harder. Dropping Pádraig O’Neill out behind midfield might give Kildare some extra physical presence under the dropping ball and it could also free up Paul Cribbin to play his natural running game from midfield.

The trouble, from a Kildare viewpoint, is that Cribbin is one of the few players that they have who tends to run directly at backs. With Cormac Reilly as referee, we usually expect the attacking forward to get the benefit of the doubt in contact. With a few more direct runners in their ranks, Reilly’s officiating should be worth more to Laois than to Kildare.

Kildare have been conceding heavily all year — nobody conceded more in Division 2 this year — and word has it that they have been working on a more defensive game plan ahead of the championship. This requires huge discipline in the tackle and I’m not sure that eight weeks is enough to think through, let alone implement, a defensive game plan with a group of players that are craving conviction of some sort after two successive relegations.

We know many of these Kildare players to be decent performers. We also know them to be honest hard-working players — almost too honest, at times, given the amount of frees they were coughing up in the league. But a string of poor results can really damage a team’s confidence if it is already brittle.

This uncertainty can manifest itself out on the field too. Few teams show as much of it as Kildare.

Right from their late collapse in the opening league game against Down, they’ve lost games because of poor decision making and if you find this evening that they are standing over frees around midfield too long, that too is just a sign of uncertainty and brittle confidence.

That, allied to the fact that, last year’s win over Louth excepted, Kildare don’t do opening rounds too well, has ensured that there is a deep sense of nervousness and foreboding about this evening for the Lilywhites.

For Kildare to turn the corner, it will take huge leadership from the older players like captain, Eamonn Callaghan, Eoghan O’Flaherty, Pádraig O’Neill and Emmet Bolton, match-winner in the league against Laois, and a man who invariably produces his best at this time of year.

Whatever scraps of encouragement Kildare may have got from their league win over Laois in late March have been offset by the fact that Laois have a championship game under their belt.

While that game against Carlow was never likely to steel them sufficiently, there were still signs in that game that Laois are getting their act together and, as Cork, Kerry, Mayo andArmagh will find out next weekend, a run-out in May is worth a few weeks training in June.

Towards the end of On The Waterfront, there’s a memorable monologue by Father Barry, played by Karl Malden in which he says that “some people think the Crucifixion only took place on Calvary. Well, they better wise up!” Whoever wins this evening, and I believe Laois will, well they know what awaits them!

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