Martin Breheny: Was McGeeney harshly treated, or had he run his course?
Published 05/09/2013 | 05:00
AFTER seven minutes of this year's Kildare-Dublin Leinster semi-final, the prospects of Kieran McGeeney being voted out as manager nine weeks later looked as remote as the Lilywhites losing by 16 points.
An early power surge took Kildare 1-2 to 0-0 clear, sending their supporters soaring into an optimistic orbit, confident they could reach heights not achieved for a long time.
However, what unfolded from there on dramatically changed the landscape, eventually leading to McGeeney's controversial removal on Tuesday night. Dublin outscored Kildare by 4-16 to 0-7 over the final 63 minutes in a complete wipeout which was bound to have repercussions for McGeeney.
The scale of the defeat stunned everybody in Kildare, and when their All-Ireland relaunch stalled in the third qualifying round when they lost to Tyrone in Newbridge, McGeeney was under pressure.
Up to then, he had large support deposits in the bank, but the demolition by Dublin began to erode the goodwill he had accumulated over previous seasons. By Tuesday night, he was in negative equity, albeit only marginally, when county board delegates voted 29-28 against reappointing him.
The closeness of the vote reflected the contrasting views in Kildare, which is understandable, given the strength of the competing arguments as to whether McGeeney should have been given a seventh season in charge.
CASE FOR RETENTION: TOP EIGHT FINISH IN FIVE OF SIX YEARS
Prior to 2008, Kildare hadn't reached an All-Ireland quarter-final since the new championship system was introduced in 2001. It was believed that the 'back door' would be a major plus for Kildare but, in fact, they won only three qualifier games from 2001 to 2007.
It was a dismal record, especially since all of their defeats came in the earlier rounds after making no real impression on Leinster other than in 2002 and 2003, when they reached the final, losing to Dublin and Laois respectively.
McGeeney got an early opportunity to address the qualifier failures in 2008 after Kildare lost their first championship game under him when Wicklow beat them in Leinster's opening
round. They recovered to reach the All-Ireland quarter-finals, thus beginning an excellent relationship with the qualifiers.
Apart from 2009, when they reached Round 4 automatically as Leinster runners-up, they started from Rounds 1 or 2 in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 and, with the exception of this year, made it to the All-Ireland quarter-finals every season.
Kildare reached the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final, where they lost rather unluckily to Down.
Since Kildare were a Division 2 team for four of his six seasons in charge, finishing in the top eight in the championship seemed a fair reflection of their true worth. There was a dip in Kildare's championship performances this year, but they had coped comfortably on their return to Division 1, reaching the semi-finals.
They had had also won the Leinster U-21 title and with McGeeney integrating several of that squad into the senior scene, there was a certain logic in allowing him to continue for one more season.
Opposing him on the basis that he had taken the squad as far as he could and that a new voice stood a better chance of moving them on to the next level is pure guesswork, which is scarcely a reliable basis for making big decisions.
CASE FOR REPLACING: ONE LEINSTER FINAL APPEARANCE IN SIX YEARS
Provincial titles still matter, especially in counties like Kildare, where there are scarce pickings. Under McGeeney, the Lilywhites reached only one Leinster final, losing to Dublin in 2009. Dublin also beat them in the 2011 and 2013 semi-finals.
Wicklow (2008), Louth (2010) and Meath (2012) beat them in earlier rounds, a trilogy of defeats which raised questions as to why Kildare were unable to kick on.
Bad enough losing so often to Dublin, but in McGeeney's six years in charge, Meath and Wexford reached more Leinster finals. Over the last four seasons Kildare's only wins in Leinster were against Offaly (twice), Wicklow and Meath, while they lost to Dublin (twice), Louth and Meath.
Then, there's the matter of how Kildare coped against the big guns. They played Dublin (three times), Tyrone (twice), Cork (twice) and Donegal once under McGeeney, losing all eight. They also lost to Down (2010 semi-final) in a game they might have been expected to win. It was as if they just couldn't find a way through the glass ceiling.
As for the league, matters arise too. Kildare were relegated in McGeeney's first year and remained in Division 2 for four seasons before finally escaping at the end of 2012. Even then, they needed a goal from a penalty against Galway in the final minute of the final game to clinch promotion.
Kildare finished third in Division 1 this year but, perhaps ominously, they lost three of their last four games after winning three of the first four.
McGeeney steered a highly rated U-21 Kildare team to the Leinster title this year but, despite starting as odds-on favourites in the All-Ireland semi-final, they were well beaten by Galway.
It raised questions as to whether the new crop were following the senior trend of previous years – getting so far but not kicking on. It strengthened the case for a new voice.