WHILE Kieran McGeeney has been getting all the plaudits for his exploits with Kildare footballers, another All-Ireland winning captain from 2002 has been bringing about an improvement in standards to much less fanfare.
It is a quirk of circumstance that the men who lifted the Sam Maguire and Liam MacCarthy Cups eight years ago were appointed as managers in the same county at the same time, but that’s exactly what happened in 2007.
Like McGeeney, Andy Comerford has demanded a lot from his charges. He has pushed them out of their comfort zones and they haven’t always liked it. But the three-time All-Ireland winner with Kilkenny never backed down and while the Christy Ring Cup has remained tantalisingly out of reach, there has been an obvious improvement.
With increased standards come tougher challenges though. Tomorrow, Kildare open their Division 2 campaign against a resurgent Laois outfit, who even in their worst days of the past decade would have been expected to win comfortably against their neighbours.
Comerford is under no illusions about what lies ahead, not just in Portlaoise against a team fresh from defeating Kilkenny in a Walsh Shield semi-final, but against blue chip counties such as Clare and Wexford down the road.
Retaining their status in a division in which they are hot favourites for relegation is the target. So too though, is being better prepared for the Christy Ring Cup, just as Carlow having moved up to this level.
“We know that we are going to be up against it because Laois are a serious team,” said Comerford. “They are beating Kilkenny at the moment (in the Walsh Shield semi-final) so we are going to use it as a learning process.
“We are going to try to learn as much about the players as we can and try to get a team that is going to fight for every ball; a team that is going to make it awkward on backs to clear the ball. They are the kind of players we are looking for and hopefully we can unearth another few in the league.
“We are going to need characters, people who are going to fight for the full 70 minutes, even when we have our backs to the wall, which they will be. We are well aware of that but we have to look at the other goal, which is to get to the Christy Ring Cup in good shape.
“These are much better than challenge matches for us. We are getting good matches which will stand to us later in the year which is what we will be using the league for. Of course we want to retain our place in Division 2 but we know that’s going to be difficult.”
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