Saturday 24 June 2017

Lilies hold edge in battle of managerial hot prospects

Keith Barr

Cork's dramatic victory gripped the nation last weekend, and I suspect that Sunday's novel pairing might even surpass the first semi-final.

This is an intriguing contest between two improving sides and two hugely ambitious and talented young managers.

I love what Kieran McGeeney and James McCartan are doing for the game. They are bringing their drive and experience as great players into the managerial set-up but doing so in a really convincing way by taking their sides out of the shadows.

They are modern managers with sound football principles. They're the real deal.

And they are making the game more interesting. McGeeney has improved Kildare incrementally over the past three years. He has had to contend with some serious setbacks, injuries and criticism but he hasn't buckled.

McCartan has harnessed the groundwork done by his predecessors and has added real confidence to a young Down side. Martin Clarke has flourished on his return from Australia -- and McCartan played a huge part in making that move a successful one.

Reaching an Ulster final would have been a realistic ambition for Down following their league promotion, but McCartan also proved he could deal with the short-term setback positively.

I felt at the start of the summer that McCartan's influence might take Down to the provincial title, but he has shown that he can inspire his side to greater heights.

However, they face a Kildare side now performing as their manager always envisaged: defending with aggression and discipline while transferring the ball as quickly as possible to the danger men. They look like a team that has grown up. And, as we saw last Sunday, experience is invaluable in a contest of inches.

Down look to have a bigger spread of forward talent but after being sucked into that analysis when Kildare faced Meath, I'm not going to do so again.

Kildare might want to avoid gifting Down a dream start on this occasion -- an early lead proved a springboard for the Mourne men's victory over Kerry.

If the Lilywhites manage to stay in touch early on, I'm confident that McGeeney will lead them into the final.

Irish Independent

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