Colm O'Rourke: Johnston affair places unwanted pressure on Kildare
A relatively easy task is now a complicated one for the Lilywhites, says Colm O'Rourke
The meeting of Cavan and Kildare this afternoon is a game that should have been played yesterday evening. With two finals on television today, a lot of people will sit down for the afternoon who might have gone to Breffni Park last night.
Still, the match should draw a big crowd. Apart from the game itself, there is the Seánie Johnston sideshow and many will travel just to see if Kildare throw him to the lions. While various Cavan figures have lined up to deny there is any ill will, it will be a massive motivational factor for the Cavan players.
The football supporters in Cavan -- and they know and love their football more than most -- feel that it is a singular insult to a proud county to jump ship like this. If Johnston was working in Kildare, then things would be different but this young man has been very badly advised in this matter and has paid a high price. Cavan are not just any old county, they have a very proud tradition of winning and are working extremely hard to get back to past glories. The success of the under 21s is a reflection of identifying problems and coming up with solutions.
At least part of the solution was putting the right people into full-time coaching positions and targeting schools and clubs to build for the future. This costs money but Cavan have a very active supporters' group who don't mind working hard in difficult times to raise money so long as it is spent in the right way. Most would agree that the spending has focused on many of the right areas in the recent past. So there should be better days ahead at senior level and someone like Seánie Johnston could have played a big part in building a new team. To do that, though, you have to put team before individual.
In normal circumstances, this should have been a relatively straightforward assignment for Kildare. No matter what improvements Cavan have made, they are still nowhere near Kildare, who won Division 2 and have been competitive against all teams in the country over the last few years.
But these are not normal times. Kildare imploded against Meath, whether through being distracted by the transfer saga, the prospect of playing Dublin again in the Leinster final, or simply by not being good enough. Whatever the reason or combination of reasons, including a few dodgy refereeing decisions, the response was not what you'd expect from a team who are considered All-Ireland contenders. Great sides overcome setbacks; Kildare are not a great side.
Yet in some ways Kildare are better off losing and coming into the qualifiers now rather than six days after being beaten by Dublin, if that was the fate to befall them. At least they have had a couple of weeks to get Meath out of the system and all their good runs in the qualifiers have come after being beaten in the Leinster championship. So nothing different there except progress this year really had to be marked by beating Dublin in the Leinster final. Now it is all duck or no dinner. It is going to be a massive test of the collective willpower for Kildare to get back on the road again but a good win today would do that.
Yet flaws remain in their game. The slow-moving short passing, poor shooting and a lack of leadership when John Doyle is held are not easily overcome. There was also a serious lack of good defending against Meath, a lot of fouling and poor technique, the photo of Peter Kelly at the time of the Meath goal reflecting that. It showed Kelly leading with his leg rather than trying to dive in and block with his hands. Kelly is a player with a bright future but all backs have to be defenders first and must be able to master the technical aspects of that job. Too often now backs see themselves as forwards who get on the end of moves and look good scoring points but don't do their own job.
What Kildare lack is a natural predator. Alan Smith looked ready-made for that role but has not made the great leap forward, neither has James Kavanagh and Tomás O'Connor has to have support close by to cause problems. The rest of the Kildare forwards were slow to get close to him in Croke Park. They will have learned from that even if Eamonn Callaghan back from injury at the start of the match would be the best tonic.
But even allowing that Kildare's difficulty is Cavan's opportunity, there is a fair gulf in class on all known recent form. In the qualifier match against Fermanagh, Cavan were six points behind at one stage of the second half and looked to be going nowhere fast, except out of the championship. Three goals from Gearóid McKiernan, Niall McDermott and Eugene Keating and points from Jack Brady turned the game completely on its head. If Cavan are six points behind in the second half today, they won't be getting three get-out-of-jail goals.
So this is the extent of the challenge facing Cavan. They have placed their faith in youth and need patience. Winning Ulster under 21 titles is no guarantee of anything, except that they are heading in the right direction and it takes more than young men to do the heavy lifting.
It is not an impossible task for Cavan but this is a mountain to climb and defeat does not necessarily mean that they are not doing things right. It looks like Cavan have a future but there is only today for Kildare.
One man who would not be a bit impressed with players unwillingness to kick the ball was laid to rest last week. Paddy 'Boiler' White was a great character who I met at football and racing and I was sorry to have missed his funeral as like many others I did not hear of his passing in time. He won a Leinster championship with Kildare in 1956 and loved players who kicked it long and could field high balls. He had many great sayings about horses and people but my favourite was his standard reply when you enquired about his well-being. "I am a millionaire. I have my health and a million would not buy it." It is true for everyone.
His grandson Gary has been on the Kildare panel for several years and I am sure the Boiler told him plenty of times to forget this short-passing 'messing' and kick the ball long down the field. Maybe he was right.
Sunday Indo Sport