THEY may have won by nine points in dreadful weather conditions but Kildare manager, Kieran McGeeney was still “disappointed” with his team’s performance in this Football Championship second round qualifier.
That is probably a compliment to a diligent Leitrim team whose efforts were hailed by their boss, Mickey Moran, as the curtain came down on what must undoubtedly have been the Derry man’s most difficult season.
Not too many managers have to deal with the death of a player but Leitrim didn’t buckle after Philly McGuinness’s tragic passing.
In this game, they tackled feverishly and created a number of opportunities early on. Dominating possession in the opening 15 minutes, with a lot of help from Gareth Phelan’s astute kick-outs, they established a two-point lead through Mulvey and a free from Michael Foley, who plays his club football in Kildare with Kilcock.
It wasn’t until James Kavanagh goaled in the 59th minute that Kildare opened up a seven-point gap so Leitrim had hung in there much longer than many expected.
Results might not have gone their way but Moran was in a positive frame of mind.
“We can be proud of our efforts,” he said. “We left no stone unturned. People can judge us whatever way they want but there’s no question, we have done everything.
“Everybody can be proud of their own input and I’m certainly not ashamed of it and I’ll stand by it but I’ll accept any decision by others who judge on other criteria.
“After the loss of Philly, (the players) tried their heart out.”
McGeeney had no quibble with his players’ application, but the failure to kill Leitrim off earlier was disquieting.
It took Kildare more than 20 minutes to open their account, while they were also held scoreless until the 15th minute of the second half. Four of their first half points came in the last eight minutes to give them a 0-6 to 0-3 lead, and they notched up 1-4 in the closing 12 minutes of the encounter.
Four points from the remaining 50 minutes is not the stuff of champions, regardless of how difficult the torrential rain and incessant wind made it.
“It was difficult conditions but the wrong options were taken in different times and they really could have killed the game off in both halves” McGeeney said. “You’re having to get used to expectations and if there are expectations, you have to be able to deliver. They did good. I’m not annoyed but I wouldn’t be overly happy.”
It was never going to be pretty, given that the ball was like a bar of soap skidding off the sod, hand and boot. But McGeeney is still working on changing a psyche of settling for what you’ve got. He has always aimed for the top.
“You have to demand things of yourselves and if you don’t, you’re not going to go further. I’m not happy with that. It’s not the fact that I’m not happy with the work they put in but I’ve never had any doubt about the commitment these fellas would give you.
“They’d run ‘til the shirts are off their back but when you run to a point, you have to do something. That’s a thing we have to get better at. I think we have one of the best squads in the country but that’s easy talk. We have to show it and we have to show it, week-in, week-out.”
This was the first ever championship meeting between the counties and Kildare had to endure some anxious moments before Kavanagh struck from close range.
Kildare settled after that poor start but Johnny Doyle and Emmet Bolton were amongst those who had glaring misses. Doyle did get the show on the road with a wonderful point on the turn and that late flurry put them in control.
A Foley free straight from the restart left it at two. Pádraig O’Neill dragged a low shot across the posts when one-on-one with Phelan but Kavanagh saved his blushes six minutes later, nudging to the net after substitute Tomás O’Connor had fetched Eamonn Callaghan’s delivery brilliantly and calmly passed across the square.
Scorers for Kildare: J Kavanagh (1-4); J Doyle (0-3, two frees); E Callaghan, M O’Flaherty, P O’Neill, H. Lynch, R Sweeney (0-1 each),
Scorers for Leitrim: M Foley (0-3, frees); S Canning, R Mulvey, D Sweeney (0-1 each),
Subs for Kildare: T O’Connor for E O’Flaherty (49); D Whyte for Earley (53); D Lyons for Mac Lochlainn (53-54); H Lynch 0-1 for Sweeney (64)
Subs for Leitrim: D O’Connor for Howard (29); C Clarke for Mulvey (45); D Sweeney (45) for Canning (55); B Prior for Beck (59).
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