I DOUBT even the most optimistic of Kildare supporters who were electrified by the Mick O Dwyer led march on September ten years ago are expecting anything of beauty in tomorrow’s encounter with the most recent team to have experienced the Micko phenomenon, Wicklow.
As O’Dwyer heads into his 116th championship match as an intercounty manager, his Kildare counterpart, Kieran McGeeney, takes his first tentative steps as sideline general. The least surprising aspect of the football that Kildare produced up to now under McGeeney’s watch has been their obsession with the physical aspects of the game but the fact that a player so long associated with success has struggled to get a consistent run of form as manager has raised eyebrows. Perhaps, as former mentor Joe Kernan suggested this week, McGeeney will do as he did in Armagh and live and die by championship form but Kildare are one of the teams who would have benefited from a decent league run.
During their warm up prior to their bruising National League match with Kerry in Tralee, the Kildare panel engaged in the most bizarre drill whereby the player who had just released the ball had his run checked by a shadow opponent.
Ever the realist, McGeeney probably felt that replicating what happens in match situations would be beneficial to his team but it took fair gumption to come into Austin Stack Park in Tralee and set out the stall for negative play before the ball was even thrown in. In view of the blanket defence employed with different stitching in Pearse Park last weekend, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by anything the Leinster Championship throws up.
Former Tipperary forward, Declan Browne, said recently that “every team is negative now. Instead of a manager saying ‘we’ll score more’ they’re saying ‘we won’t concede as much’. You play the way you train but managers are too conservative and it’s hard to see that ethos changing”.
Browne could have been talking about any number of teams in today’s game but negativity aside, tomorrow’s game is the ideal start to McGeeney’s championship odyssey with Kildare. The game affords them the chance to test patterns of play and in the event of some working out better than others, Kildare can then play a more expansive game with a solid backline.
Wicklow have recently put it up to Kildare in championship football and the way McGeeney’s side are set up means they won’t annihilate Micko’s men and set themselves up for a big fall against Laois. The emphasis on defensive play will probably mean less quality ball going into the inside forwards but with Killian Brennan, Ronan Sweeney and Dermot Earley capable of winning more than their fair share of possession around the middle and John Doyle the creative influence in the half forward line, the inside line of Michael Conway, Padraig O’Neill and Alan Smith should be able to rack up the scores in Croke Park.
A further feature that defines the contrast between both managers tomorrow is the profile kept by both in the build up to the championship opener. In keeping with tradition from his playing days, McGeeney politely declined all requests for interviews and eschewed the limelight, favouring instead to let his selectors Paul Grimley and Niall Carew field the questions. Micko, on the other hand fired out his by now traditional pre-championship routine by focussing yet again this week on the perceived inequality of the championship as currently constructed.
While decrying what he called GAA double standards in relation to weaker counties’ exclusion from the All Ireland qualifier series, O’Dwyer said that he would ‘love to sit down with the people who came up with that idea and ask them to explain the thinking behind it’.
I have no inclination to go over old ground but I don’t doubt that if O’Dwyer sits down with one of his selectors (and one of those very people who came up with the idea) Kevin O’Brien he may well be more enlightened. This red herring should not diminish or detract from what O’Dwyer has achieved in the game but the argument is getting stale.
One of the bright young things in inter-county management, Jody Gormley suggested a workable system for a championship revamp earlier this week as well but his attentions are of course focussed on the Ulster championship opener in Casement Park tomorrow. Whoever wins will only be delaying the inevitable lambs to the slaughter against Armagh next month but watching Seanie Johnston in action is always worthwhile.
Meanwhile, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Michael Ryan has stepped into the job too early in Roscommon and Liam Sammon has brought his considerable talents to bear a few years too late in Galway. The second game in Croke Park tomorrow pits Colm Coyle and his depleted Royals against Paul Bealin’s Carlow outfit. The absence of so many established Meath players through injury and suspension is unlikely to see them ambushed but the unsettled nature of the team may well militate against them against Bealin’s former charges, Wexford, on the 1st of June. Until then, if it’s entertainment in Croke Park you’re after, you’ll have to settle for Celine Dion!
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