Kildare find strength in the face of adversity
Published 28/07/2015 | 02:30
Whatever else can be said about Kildare, the charge of lacking resilience can't be laid against them these days.
As the fall-out from Thurles last Saturday night focused on Cork's collapse, it was too easy to forgot that Kildare themselves have had to deal with the trauma of so many bad bumps over the last 18 months that should have put them off the road.
From relegation to Division 2 and then Division 3, with the manner of home League defeats to Tyrone and Down stitched in to a 19-point hammering by Dublin in Croke Park just a few weeks ago, the case for wishing the season to end was a strong one.
The undercurrent of poor morale and disillusionment has never been far away. But each time they have been knocked they have shown considerable capacity to dust themselves down and get back up again.
Their persistence has been rewarded them with arguably their most significant Championship result for 12 years.
Kildare reached five consecutive All-Ireland quarter-finals from 2008 to 2012 under Kieran McGeeney's stewardship but could hardly claim anything to surpass Thurles on Saturday night.
They beat Meath twice during that five-year period, once in an All-Ireland quarter-final when the Royals were Leinster champions in 2010 and again the following year in a qualifier, but their neighbours could not be considered a top-six team in those years.
Monaghan and Derry (twice) were also conquered, but the absence of a Championship victory over a team that could be considered 'top six' has been missing from this team's CV and it has rankled.
Thus, beating Cork so convincingly must represent their most significant scalp since beating Meath in the 2003 Leinster semi-final - a Royal team that had only two years previously had won a provincial title and reached an All-Ireland final.
The circumstances of Cork's seven-day turnaround have to be factored in but so too does Kildare's predicament in the wake of their biggest defeat to Dublin since 1897.
The context of the win must be set against the raft of departures they have had from the squad in the 12 months since their Championship exit to Monaghan in last year's fourth-round qualifier.
Mick Foley had begun falling out of favour in 2014 and retired late last year; Hugh McGrillen also opted to step away.
Paddy Brophy and Sean Hurley, two of the county's most promising players that featured on the 2013 U-21 squad that really should have closed out an All-Ireland semi-final to eventual winners Galway, were signed by AFL clubs Freemantle and West Coast Eagles, taking them out of the picture.
The exodus quickened towards the end of and after the ill-fated League campaign.
Fringe players like Jimmy Gately and Daryl O'Brien and one of the goalkeepers, Shane Connolly, left and were followed by Tomas O'Connor, who had become frustrated by the lack of game-time he was getting.
By May they had lost Keith Cribbin to a cruciate ligament injury, while Daniel Flynn, who had come home from Australia after an unsettled spell with Port Adelaide earlier this year, also quit to go to America before those plans were interrupted by injury.
When David Hyland and Daroch Mulhall opted to go to America in the days after the 19-point defeat to Dublin, it looked like the ship was listing badly.
But right now Kildare look best-placed to lead the chase against Dublin in Leinster over the next few years.
They have stockpiled two of the last three Leinster minor titles and were highly competitive against Dublin in this year's U-21 final, when Neil Flynn delivered one of the kicking exhibitions of the season, scoring 11 points from a play and a range of frees.
Flynn didn't take the opportunity to stick with the seniors this summer, opting to travel instead
Paul Cribbin and Niall Kelly have been key architects and Cribbin has hit a really rich vein of form, his best spell since returning home from an AFL career himself with Collingwood three years ago.
The fact that it's Kerry and not Dublin they are facing this weekend, courtesy of Fermanagh's victory over Westmeath, is also something novel.
The memories of too many bad League and Championship defeats to Dublin in Croke Park, four by double-digits in the last two-and-a-half years, may still be too fresh.