Kildare are up and running in Championship 2011; Wicklow are down and unless they re-focus themselves in a meaningful way over the coming weeks they will be out of the All-Ireland race by the end of June.
Kildare had to do nothing especially spectacular to get their Leinster campaign off to a successful start in Portlaoise yesterday as Wicklow produced their worst championship performance of the Mick O'Dwyer era. He will leave them at the end of the championship which, on the evidence of yesterday's dreadful second-half display, will be sooner rather than later.
Wicklow supporters were concerned whether their defence would hold out against the Kildare attack but could never have envisaged that their own attack would suffer such a crippling power loss. They scored three points in the first 20 minutes but managed just two more in the remaining 50 minutes.
Indeed, it looked as if they would fail to score at all in the second half but were rescued from that embarrassment when Leighton Glynn pointed a free with the last kick of the game. By then, Kildare were idling comfortably in front, having outscored Wicklow by 0-7 to 0-0 in the second half.
Wicklow's misery was made all the more acute by the dismissal of their best forward Austin O'Malley on a straight red card in the 63rd minute, following a clash with Andrew McLoughlin. It didn't affect the outcome as Kildare were safely on their way to a Leinster quarter-final clash with Meath on Sunday week but it did complete a terrible afternoon for Wicklow.
As for Kildare, they were happy to secure a safe lift-off but will acknowledge that a big improvement is required if they are to build on the progress made last year.
A total of 12 points wins relatively few championship games and it was only enough yesterday because of the sheer paucity of Wicklow's display in the second half. It will be of concern to Kildare that they shot a total of 17 wides, an error rate which could prove fatal on another day.
"It's an area we'll have to improve on alright," said captain Johnny Doyle, fresh from a man-of-the-match performance in his new role at midfield. With Daryl Flynn ruled out with an ankle injury, Doyle switched to midfield and turned in an energetic performance, punctuated with flashes of enterprise which have been the hallmark of his long career.
"Sure it's no problem to a young lad like me," he joked, while also drawing high praise from O'Dwyer.
"Still one of the best players in the game wherever he lines out," said O'Dwyer who could find no easy explanation for the attacking wipe-out which totally undermined Wicklow.
"These things happen but if you score five points in any game there can only be one outcome. We did okay in the first half but never got going at all in the second half. It's very disappointing because we all know Wicklow are better than that."
Kildare led by 0-5 to 0-4 at half-time, having kicked 10 wides and also dropped several shots short. After a slow start to the second half, their strike rate improved but they were also guilty of wasting some good chances.
Despite the wayward shooting, manager Kieran McGeeney talked up the positives, in particular the fact that they created so many openings.
"I'd be more worried if the chances weren't being created," he said.
Wicklow's problems were far more fundamental and, ultimately, much more serious. They struggled around midfield with the result that the supply to the full-forward line was haphazard. Far too often, long balls were punted towards the Kildare goal, only to be easily collected by a vigilant defence.
O'Malley had some good moments -- he scored two points in the first half -- but Seanie Furlong made little headway. Glynn operated much further out but wasn't able to exert himself in the manner Wicklow have come to expect.
He came on as a sub for Wicklow hurlers in their Christy Ring Cup game on Saturday, while corner-back Stephen Kelly completed two full games in two days. O'Dwyer was diplomatic about the dual role although it's not exactly what he would have wanted.
Kelly played quite well, as indeed the Wicklow defence did for much of the way but with so little return from the forward line, it became increasingly obvious that Kildare would win without over-extending themselves.
McGeeney will have been pleased with the defensive solidity which restricted Wicklow to just three points from open play while Doyle and Hugh Lynch did well at midfield. Alan Smith, Tomas O'Connor and sub James Kavanagh were lively in attack.
For Wicklow, it was a thoroughly miserable outing. They never came anywhere close to replicating the feisty displays of previous years; indeed there was a marked absence of appetite about their second-half performance.
O'Dwyer conceded that Kildare were sharper and admitted that the winning margin could have been higher. "The fact that we were only beaten by seven points was amazing really. Kildare totally dominated us in the second half," he said.
For Kildare, it was a question of seeing off a challenge which they thought would be a whole lot tougher. They will need to improve but the scope is there for a further uplift.
"We'll have to take more of our chances if we're to keep progressing. We weren't great in the department today but we know we can do a lot better," said a relieved Doyle.
Man of the Match: Johnny Doyle (Kildare)
Scorers -- Kildare: J Doyle 0-4 (3f), A Smith 0-3, G White ('45), H Lynch, T O'Connor, E Bolton, P Fogarty 0-1 each. Wicklow: A O'Malley, S Furlong (1f) 0-2 each, L Glynn 0-1 (f).
Kildare -- S Connolly 7; A McLoughlin 7, M Foley 7, H McGrillen 7; G White 7, M O'Flaherty 7, E Bolton 7; J Doyle 8, H Lynch 7; P O'Neill 6, E O'Flaherty 5, B Flanagan 5; T O'Connor 7, R Sweeney 6, A Smith 8. Subs: J Kavanagh7 for O'Flaherty (27), E Callaghan 7 for Flanagan (30), P Fogarty 6 for Sweeney (48), C Brophy 6 for O'Neill (51), F Dowling for O'Connor (68).
Wicklow -- M Travers 7; C Hyland 7, A Byrne 7, S Kelly 7; M McLoughlin7, B McGrath 7, D Hayden 7; J Stafford 6, R Finn 6; T Hannon 5, P Dalton 5, P Earls 5; A O'Malley 7, S Furlong 5, L Glynn 6. Subs: C McGraynor 7 for Hannon (21), R Mernagh 5 for P Dalton (44), JP Dalton 5 for Finn (62).
Ref -- M Duffy (Sligo)