August may be upon us, but the Kildare team that faces Monaghan in the All-Ireland qualifiers on Saturday returns to Croke Park with no-one knowing for certain where they stand in Gaelic football’s pecking order.
Performances have resided somewhere between very good and very bad. Louth were dispensed with in ruthless fashion, while Meath saw them at their inconsistent worst.
Their efforts through the back door have been similarly Jekyll and Hyde. Down were dealt with impressively in Newry, but then came a miraculous escape against Clare in Ennis which saw old doubts resurface.
Which Kildare will turn up this weekend, then? It’s hard to say and Fergal Conway, one of Kildare’s recent graduates from a successful U21 side in 2013, admits it is a difficult question to answer.
“I’m not quite sure, to be honest. In the second-half against Meath, the shackles were off and we just went at them a bit more. We didn’t change any tactics, we just went at them, lads took responsibility and went at them.”
That was a more insightful answer than it may appear, particularly given Conway’s further assertion that Kildare’s superb record in the qualifiers this past five years may be down to the do-or-die nature of knockout football.
“The pressure of a must-win game,” he called it.
Nowhere was that more apparent than the last round in Cusack Park when Jason Ryan’s side found themselves on the precipice in that final quarter and, in the end, requiring seven unanswered points to squeak home.
“It was a tough battle. We knew it would be going down there. I was thinking all week that there wasn’t going to be more than a point in it and that’s what we got.”
Did he ever think they were gone? “No, you never think that in a game. You just try to keep plugging away and we got the last couple of scores which were vital. You have to keep thinking positively and keep going.”
That would chime with his manager’s approach. The general impression after the Meath loss was one of a depressing systems failure, but Jason Ryan distilled the tie into its component parts and bottled a number of areas which he stressed were cause for comfort. The trick worked with that resultant performance against Down.
“I suppose you probably get that (positive) vibe off him, but if you are doing things wrong he’s not going to be positive about that. Of course, he’s positive about things. He’ll tell you what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong as well.”
Such positive vibes aren’t there in abundance in Kildare right now. Many of their own feared defeat that first day against Louth and the damaging Leinster final loss to Meath resurrected doubts over a team still in transition.
“After we lost to Meath, expectation went down. We just kept the heads down and worked away and I wouldn’t personally know much about it. There could be big hype. I wouldn’t even know. We have to worry about ourselves and this game on Saturday.”
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