McGeeney methods proving qualified success
Published 27/07/2010 | 05:00
Whatever other legacy Kieran McGeeney will deposit from his time with Kildare, one has already been set in stone.
In three successive years they have, under his guidance, reached three All-Ireland quarter-finals, a feat only achieved by Kerry, Cork, Tyrone and Dublin in those same years. That puts them in illustrious company. Top eight? It may be more appropriate to list them as top six at this stage, with the potential now to go even further.
After last Saturday's grinding into submission of Monaghan and the subsequent quarter-final placement with Meath, the optimism grows.
McGeeney's record of being able to pick up the pieces, redraft and reinvigorate after bad defeats in Leinster is testament to his ability to learn, accept blame and, above all, keep calm.
They have lost none of the 10 qualifier games in his command, beating Cavan, Louth, Limerick and Fermanagh in year one, Wicklow in year two and Antrim, Leitrim, Derry and Monaghan in year three.
It could be argued that the draw has been kind to them. They avoided Tyrone in '08 and Cork this season. Last year it could have been Kerry.
In recent weeks it could also be argued that they have got a Derry team in some turmoil and a Monaghan side labouring under the memory of watching another coveted Ulster title slip by six days earlier.
But that disguises Kildare's resilience in adversity and the relentless power of their performances, particularly in the month of July, when four highly impressive victories have been reeled off by a cumulative margin of 33 points.
For a team that supposedly can't shoot, clocking up returns of 1-15 twice, 2-17 and 1-12 doesn't make bad reading.
It also begs another question. If Kildare can be so impressive in July, just around the time of the Leinster football final, why were they so vulnerable against Louth in their championship opener on June 5?
McGeeney has consistently raised the point about the number of injuries carried during the league and that's valid. So too is the improvement in Louth, as illustrated by their Leinster final second-half performance.
But were Kildare tailoring their training to meet the demands of a Leinster final on July 11 and an All-Ireland quarter-final three weeks later, conscious of how some of their biggest performances in 2009 came against Wexford and Laois in June?
McGeeney had hinted at a change in the approach to training, a different emphasis geared towards sustaining a longer championship challenge. The Leinster championship draw looked heavily weighted in their favour, with Westmeath, Wicklow, Carlow and Longford in their half along with Louth. The temptation to try and hold something had to be strong.
Maybe they did get their timing wrong for Louth, but too many players had been struggling with form up to that point anyway. What matters is where they are now. There are those in Kildare who always believed that the third year in this management cycle would always be the most critical one and that is how it is evolving.
They have been relentless over the last four weekends, when a particular trend has developed. Only once have they led at the end of the first quarter; not once have they scored the first point. Essentially, they do their best work in the second half.
It points to a high level of physical fitness that allows them to play a perpetual motion game, breaking from a congested midfield in numbers and benefiting from the ability to overlap.
Kevin McStay's analysis on 'The Sunday Game' about the liberal nature of their shooting has its merits. Their capacity to mix sublime accuracy with shooting from distance that at times seems pointless has it source in their training-ground philosophy where the phrase "pull the trigger" is commonly heard.
They do "pull the trigger" and quite often it fails them, none more so than Johnny Doyle, their most prolific marksmen of recent times, who chalked up half of the team's 16 wides against Monaghan.
That would have been unsustainable to Kildare in the past but other sources have stepped up impressively. After a season blighted by injury, both James Kavanagh and Eamonn Callaghan are right back in form and it might not be an exaggeration to suggest that Callaghan is now as important to the team and the way they play as Dermot Earley, who himself has picked up after an injury-ravaged season.
Alan Smith is another who could have written off the earlier part of this season for different season but he too has rediscovered elements of 2009.
Kildare have been loosely setting themselves up in attack with a 2-2-2 formation which has also been working well. Against Monaghan, Kavanagh and Smith worked inside together, Doyle and Padraig O'Neill (later Ronan Sweeney) took up deeper positions with Callaghan and Ken Donnelly (later Eoghan O'Flaherty) working even closer to the midfield.
But above all there is a maturity about Kildare, a knowledge that the longer games progress and they are in contention, the better their prospects are.
In recent weeks McGeeney has added two of the talented minor squad that took Dublin in a third match of their Leinster championship trilogy, only to lose to Longford five days later.
That has been taken in the county as a sign that the manager is not in a hurry to leave. Kildare is a project that has gone off track a few times abut has been recovered and is now firmly back on course.