Kieran McGeeney: 'Secon best'
Early this week, Leighton Glynn got talking to Pat Spillane. It was just days after Wicklow drew with Armagh and Spillane commented on the disparity between that impressive performance and Wicklow's insipid display against Kildare.
Spillane described the Kildare display as "atrocious" and Glynn immediately pulled him up on it. He said that Wicklow were only one point behind at half-time before they were steamrolled in the second half.
"We thought we were in a good place at half-time," says Glynn. "We had beaten Kildare in 2008, rattled them in '09 and we felt we could beat them again.
"But Kildare were that good after half-time that it didn't matter how well we played. They just completely blew us out of the water in the second half.
"They were powerful, strong and quick. We got a lot of stick around the county for our performance. People were saying that we had gone back years and all that crap. But the reality is that Kildare were just on another level in that second half. They just took us apart."
It is a point well made. If you analyse Kildare's performances over the last two seasons, their second-half displays have been awesome. If you statistically compare their first-half and second-half performances, there is a marked difference.
In 12 championship games since 2010, Kildare have posted an aggregate of 6-67 during those first halves, while they've hit 7-109 in their combined second halves.
Conversely, they have conceded 4-78 during those first halves, while they have only coughed up 2-57 during their second-half displays. In effect, they score far more in the second half, and also concede far less.
There is also a marked contrast to Kildare's displays during Kieran McGeeney's first two seasons in charge. In 11 championship matches in 2008 and '09, Kildare hit 4-93 in their first halves, while they managed 6-65 during their combined second halves.
Having conceded 5-57 in those first halves, they shipped 3-68 in those second halves. Back then, Kildare were scoring far more in their first-half performances, while they were conceding just marginally fewer scores in those first halves than they were after the break.
One of the reasons recently put forward for their increased second-half performances was the intensity of their near 30-minute warm-up, which some suggested might be draining their energy levels in the first half. Yet, only three or four players go through the warm-up at full throttle because every player is allowed to complete the routine at his own pace.
If you examine statistics from Kildare's first-half performances this year, their possession stakes have been close to 50pc but they haven't been converting their chances.
And McGeeney admitted as much after last weekend's win against Laois.
"I still think we play well in the first half but we don't shoot well in the first half," said the manager. "We get a lot of possession. We had some great movement in the first half but we didn't take our shots for points."
In the end, it was a signature performance from Kildare. They eventually choked the life out of Laois, putting in a devastating second-half performance of power and pace, clocking up 14 scores in the process. After only conceding an aggregate of nine second-half points against Wicklow, Meath and Dublin, they held Laois to just four scores after the break.
In their last 12 championship matches, only one team has scored more against Kildare in the second half than the first -- Monaghan in last year's qualifier. And Monaghan got a goal in the dying moments.
Like a golfer at the Majors, they want to be performing down the back nine, as opposed to burning it up on the front nine. But Kildare are just relentless.
If you closely watch the opposition coming off at half-time in their matches against Kildare, some players are almost on their knees. They have put so much energy into matching Kildare's work rate that they just aren't able to stay with them in the second half. And once the game opens up, Kildare just rack them.
"They never let up for the 70 minutes," says Laois defender Padraig McMahon. "Some teams seem to have periods of dominance and then periods where the other team has a purple patch, but they just dominated the whole second half. They're very fit and powerful and they have improved their physicality."
There's no doubt that the incremental improvement in their game and their ability to accelerate past teams in the second half is a product of the massive work Kildare have put in during their four years under McGeeney.
Their workload has been phenomenal. During the spring and prior to the championship, the squad were more or less training seven days a week -- four football sessions and three other days split between gym work, speed-work and core sessions.
There have often been occasions when the squad has done eight collective sessions per week. Although the squad only have a couple of collective sessions on weeks like these, the panel are still doing individual weights sessions, while more fill their week with yoga classes.
That is the relentless mentality McGeeney has instilled in his players.
Their work rate is phenomenal. Rob Kelly only made a handful of plays last weekend against Laois, but the off-the-ball running he did throughout the match to open up the space for Tomas O'Connor at full-forward was excellent. Kelly was hauled off after 44 minutes.
The guy who replaced him -- James Kavanagh -- came in and delivered a brilliant performance.
The competition within the squad has fostered that manic intensity. Management have convinced the squad that 20 players must run themselves into the ground on match-day and they have developed into more of a team than ever this season.
Although they should have moved him closer to goal against Dublin, it could be argued that the reason they have Johnny Doyle at midfield is because everything was going through him in the full-forward line. That's not conducive for the team game and the team has benefited more from Doyle's immense work rate out the field -- he made more plays than anyone else last Saturday evening.
The development of so many players within the squad is a testament to the quality of coaching as well. Against Wicklow in 2008, Eamonn Callaghan came on as a corner-back. Now, he has become one of their key players as a creative and hard-working forward. Hugh McGrillen couldn't make the Kildare U-21 team in '08 but he's been excellent over the last two seasons.
Dermot Earley was their best player in '09 but he's been ravaged by injury over the last two years and they've managed to prosper without him.
"When we played them in '09, we would have beaten them that day only Dermot Earley had an unbelievable game," says Glynn. "They were dependent on him, but they're not relying on any one individual now. They're a well-oiled machine."
Nothing is left to chance. Former referee John Bannon often attends their sessions to officiate training games in an attempt to improve consistency. Kildare have evolved and improved under McGeeney and play with a spirit never seen before from a Lilywhites side.
And that spirit really shines through when the game is there to be decided in the second half.
On the last three occasions that Kildare have been beaten in the championship -- against Louth, Down and Dublin -- they have trailed by margins of five and six points at the break. So unless Meath are ahead by a similar margin at half-time this evening, their odds won't look good.