Alex Beirne: Increased focus on defensive work-rate key for Kildare

As far as areas of concern go for boss Glenn Ryan ahead of Saturday's league opener with Dublin at Croke Park, a leaking defence is at the very top of the list
Alex Beirne: Increased focus on defensive work-rate key for Kildare

FOCUS: Kildare Senior Footballer Alex Beirne. Pic: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

When Kildare conceded 2-20 to Mayo in the final round of last year's National League, resulting in their relegation to Division 2, it was the beginning of a defensive tailspin.

Between that game and Kildare's four subsequent Championship outings, the Lilywhites coughed up a whopping 11-77, or 22 points on average per game, bottoming out with the 5-17 they conceded to Dublin on Leinster final day.

As far as areas of concern go for boss Glenn Ryan ahead of Saturday's league opener with Dublin at Croke Park, it is at the very top of the list.

There were signs of an increased emphasis on defence in their two O'Byrne Cup games, a routine win over Wexford and a narrow defeat to Louth, though Saturday's summit will be the first major test of 2023.

"We probably would have felt we were a small bit open at times last year, whether it was system based or whatever," acknowledged Kildare forward Alex Beirne at the announcement of Brady Family's renewal of their sponsorship of Kildare GAA, Kildare camogie and Kildare LGFA for four more years. "It's been something we've been working on, being more defensively sound.

"It's not that we work on 15 men behind the ball kind of thing, it was more kind of tackling skills. It is an area of focus for ourselves to shore up the shop and concede less goals.

"There were a couple of games last year where we were lucky not to concede more and there was the Dublin game where we did obviously concede five goals so it is an area of focus, yeah. You look at the standard bearers, the likes of Dublin and Kerry, Kerry conceded only two or three goals all last year so it's there to be seen how important it is."

As Naas man Beirne alluded to, it won't necessarily be about pulling extra bodies back into their own half of the field immediately after the throw-in. Rather it'll be about defence beginning with a high work rate among the forwards.

"Absolutely, you can't be expecting your three lads in the full-back line to go man on man and to win every ball," said the back to back county title winner. 

"With the calibre of forwards these days, it's not as easy as that, so it does start with number 15 and working back, putting huge pressure on the opposition coming out and working as a unit to allow the lads to get set up as best as possible in our own '45."

Kildare scored a landmark win over Dublin in last year's Division 1 campaign in Newbridge. Yet by the time they met again in the Leinster final, there were already signs of defensive leakage. Against Westmeath in the provincial semi-final, Kildare conceded 2-15 and were mightily relieved to hear the final whistle as Westmeath whipped up a late storm. Still, conceding 5-17 to Dublin, and five first-half goals, came as a shock.

"It was just the speed we were hit at, whether we were maybe a bit naive or a bit, I don't know, expecting things to go different ways and they didn't and we probably let it happen whereas we should have maybe been a small bit smarter, a bit cuter, slowed down the game a bit more," said Beirne.

"Just the pace of the game, we never really got settled. We'd be hoping to have learned from that and to improve going forward and be a small bit smarter when it comes to moments like that within a game, whether that be a goal or a couple of consecutive points against us, just steadying the ship."

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