Kieran McGeeney has looked destroyed on each occasion he had to address defeat at Croke Park over the last five years.
Yesterday hurt, no doubt about it. But there wasn’t the same haunted look that has accompanied the losses of the past three campaigns.
As he said himself, he is a massively driven individual, motivated by winning, but on this occasion, apart from a brief spell at the end of the first-half and the start of the second, Kildare were a clear second best.
Admitting you’re not good enough is a different type of pain, but under-performing badly against Meath in the Leinster championship, or being the victim of poor officiating as has been the case in the past, induced more a feeling of desolation than not measuring up against a team of Cork’s calibre.
“We’ve been knocking on the door before,” he said.
“In most cases we should have won those games but today we were beaten by a stronger team. We had our chances and we forced our way back in the first-half… missed a few crucial scores too.
“In the second-half we started very well but couldn’t get the ball over the bar. Cork just went up, put two or three on and next thing it’s a seven-point game. Then it’s just one-way traffic.
“You have to give credit to Cork. They’re strong in every section of the pitch. They punish you for every weakness. We seemed lethargic in midfield, just didn’t seem to have the energy we had in past games. That’s the way it goes with sport, it’s a cruel mistress.”
McGeeney knows the Leesiders well, as the teams have met regularly on the challenge circuit over the past five years. He would have planned for their power and pace, but planning and execution are different things.
Once Eoin Doyle was sent off for a second yellow card offence in the 53rd minute – at which stage, Cork were already seven points clear – it was curtains.
“If there’s any team that can exploit a counter-attack, with the speed and strength they have in the middle eight, it’s Cork. You have to hand it to them. In the past, we’d always felt that you were probably even, or better than the teams [that beat you] but today Cork were stronger all over the pitch; the better team won. It’s never easy admitting you were beaten by a better man or a better team but today was one of those days. They’re a good unit.”
He articulated the pride he felt in his players’ efforts and said that whether he would be back next year would depend on them.
“Though it didn’t look like it yesterday, he believes fervently they have what it takes to keep going to the well, especially with the young players coming through.
“It’s very hard to explain to anyone that hasn’t done it, to keep coming back and knocking on that door. That’s what happens in a lot of counties, a lot of players give it five or six years and then they quit. They find it hard to come back. You very rarely get to that point [of success].
“I suppose we would know more in Armagh about that than most. Seven or eight of us kept knocking at the door. It took us 10 years… I feel the Kildare boys have that type of unit, but then you have to keep pushing.”
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