Doyle wants McGeeney to stick with wounded Lilies
Tyrone 1-11 Kildare 0-12
A PROMISE almost fulfilled and promise yet to be delivered upon.
All-Ireland SFC Qualifier Rd 3
Tyrone 1-11 Kildare 0-12
Mickey Harte's bold assertion in the wake of their defeat to Donegal that his side would feature in the last eight in the race for the All-Ireland is now just 70 minutes from being realised.
But for Kieran McGeeney, Kildare remain a conundrum that is yet to be resolved.
For 15 second-half minutes, Kildare were what they have shown they can be. They were fluid, gutsy and wonderfully athletic as they kicked five unanswered scores to pull level.
Then, when Shane Connolly pulled off a great save from Stephen O'Neill's penalty, it seemed set up for the Lilies. Home advantage and younger legs might have seen them home, but instead of Connolly's save providing the platform for success, Tyrone edged their way back into the game.
The real damage was done in the first half. Kildare kicked nine first-half wides and three more efforts dropped into Pascal McConnell's hands. Contrast that with the clinical fashion in which Matthew Donnelly fired Tyrone's early goal to the net.
It had all looked so bright for McGeeney's men when John Doyle pointed after just 30 seconds, but he didn't get his second from play until the stroke of half-time. In between those scores, the home team managed just one paltry point from play.
"Kildare can show too much respect," McGeeney observed, reflecting on their poor first-half. "You have to go out there and take it, because in sport it's never given to you, it's never put in your lap. You have to bend for the ball, you're not going to get the decision – you have to ignore that – and you have to keep going."
In his post-match interviews, McGeeney spoke quietly. His disappointment was palpable. After six seasons in charge, the speculation on his future will crank up, but he insisted he had no decision made. "It's hard to say just a few minutes after. I'm obviously very disappointed and I'm more disappointed for the fellas," he stated.
"They put in huge effort, we made a lot of changes this year with a lot of young fellas coming in and that had to happen for the team.
"Kildare have won the Leinster U-16, minor, U-21 and junior – things aren't as bad for them as they might think. On days like today it's hard for the senior players. You'd like to see them winning titles – but it seems to be eluding them."
That underage success points at a bright future while, in the second half, youngsters like Paul Cribbin and Sean Hurley led the fight. A team in transition?
"That's a word for an excuse. There are big changes because you want to improve. Young Niall Kelly was fantastic out there today, given the physicality of the game. We were unlucky to lose Daniel Flynn – he got hit and couldn't continue with a dead leg. The likes of Sean Hurley, Paddy Brophy and Paul Cribbin – it's good to see them coming through.
"They are the right type of player. It's going to be hard for them to push on, but that's what you do.
"It's not easy, but even in my day, it took 10 years playing for Armagh before you won anything. It was just before you were ready to quit when things seemed to change. Things can change in a heartbeat. It's about continuing to knock on the door and never giving up. That's what sport's about."
Veteran Doyle was still one of Kildare's brightest lights. His own future remains up in the air, but he wants McGeeney to stay on.
"I think it's imperative that the management, led by Kieran, stay on. I can't overstate how much Kieran has done for this county. He puts his life into it and I don't think it's a coincidence that you see success at underage, because Kieran drives the whole thing.
"Every young lad in the place wants to play with Kildare now. Obviously, you have to respect his own decision. The one thing about Kieran is he is such a selfless person, so he'll do what he thinks is best for Kildare football and not what he thinks is best for him."
Referee Joe McQuillan was jostled as he left the field in Newbridge. The Cavan official hadn't endeared himself to the locals and while he wouldn't be drawn on specifics, McGeeney voiced some displeasure.
Kildare might point to the dismissal of Peter Kelly in the closing stages, but Kelly was already on thin ice and it looked like Tyrone had weathered the storm at that stage.
"It's very hard to be objective. A lot of things happened that probably won't come out – they'll be brushed under the carpet as they are in the GAA. These things happen on the football pitch and they're best left there I suppose".
For Tyrone, the back-door odyssey continues with a trip to Croke Park on Saturday night to face Meath. Cathal McCarron is their biggest injury concern for that game with a dead leg, while Aidan Cassidy played himself into contention for a starting spot when his introduction at midfield coincided with a Tyrone power surge.
"Over the whole game there was lots of good football at different times," Harte said. "The load was shared, different people just stood up at different times and I think that's what makes a good team.
"We are only one game away from (the quarter-finals) now, which is pleasing. When I said it after the Donegal game, we were four games away from it. Now we are just one win away from it. But Meath will want to do the same thing.
"They had a good Leinster final and have been playing good football in the Leinster Championship. They have a whole lot of new players that wouldn't have been there even the last time we met them, so it will be a big challenge for us again."
August beckons and Harte is still standing.
SCORERS – Tyrone: S Cavanagh 0-4 (3fs), Matthew Donnelly 1-1, D McCurry 0-3 (3fs), Mark Donnelly, P Harte, M Penrose (1f) 0-1 each. Kildare: J Doyle 0-6 (4fs), N Kelly 0-2, P O'Neill, E O'Flaherty, P Cribbin, S Johnston (sl) 0-1 each.
Kildare – S Connolly 8; D Hyland 6, P Kelly 6, H McGrillen 6; E Bolton 6, M O'Flaherty 6, Daniel Flynn 6; Daryl Flynn 6, P O'Neill 6; E O'Flaherty 6, P Brophy 6, E Callaghan 6; N Kelly 7, T O'Connor 5, J Doyle 8. Subs: P Cribbin 7 for Flynn (20), S Hurley 6 for Callaghan (35), S Johnston 6 for O'Neill (55), A Smith 6 for Kelly (57), E Doyle for O'Connor (65).
Tyrone – P McConnell 6; A McCrory 6, C Clarke 8, C McCarron 7; R McKenna 6, P Harte 7, C Gormley 7; C Cavanagh 5, S Cavanagh 7; Matthew Donnelly 8, Joe McMahon 6, Mark Donnelly 8; D McCurry 6, S O'Neill 7, M Penrose 7. Subs: A Cassidy 8 for C Cavanagh (42), D Carlin 6 for McKenna (52), K Coney 6 for McCurry (57), C McAlliskey for O'Neill (68), Justin McMahon for McCarron (68).
Ref – J McQuillan (Cavan).