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Lilies back to battling best

HISTORY may yet show Saturday, July 3 2010 as the day this Kildare team came of age but Kieran McGeeney wasn't quite ready to engage in such speculation after his team's 1-15 to 0-9 victory over Antrim in Casement Park.

So dominant were his men in the second half (they outscored their opponents 0-11 to 0-4) that they could afford to coast for the final 10 minutes or so and gear down to a meeting with Leitrim next Saturday in Newbridge, a match they should win to move into the business-like end of the championship.

Constructed on the concrete foundations of a hugely impressive defensive action which conceded just three points from play over the 70 minutes, just about every player in a Lilywhite shirt won their individual second-half battle and in John Doyle, they had a man who, having endured a rocky start in front of the posts, summoned upon all his character and skill to plunge the sword deep into the Saffron wound and kick a decisive 1-6 (0-2f).

"We were good without being great," commented McGeeney, though his perception of the performance was obviously heavily coloured by the first-half display which, particularly early on, featured an almost complete meltdown in front of the posts.

Doyle's goal after an incisive pass from the impressive Emmet Bolton and a brilliant dummy solo on 21 minutes should have given Kildare a platform to surge ahead into the break but Paddy Cunningham was having an inspired day from placed balls (he kicked six of his seven points from frees) and the Antrim runners from deep kept winning frees inside the scoring zone.

As for what message McGeeney relayed at the break, that will remain within the four walls of the Casement Park dressing room.

"You probably wouldn't want me to repeat it," he laughed.


"They worked hard without doing themselves justice. I still don't think they've clicked yet or done themselves the justice they should do."

Whatever it was and whether the players took it on board or not, all changed utterly upon the restart.

Firstly, Dermot Earley, having endured as tough a week as anyone could imagine, was shoved in to full-forward, with Ronan Sweeney swapping positions to midfield.

On the surface, it had all the hallmarks of McGeeney trying to flog an ailing horse for one last race before his withdrawal but Earley was colossal in his new brief.

With his first touch, he kicked a point, then won three clean balls and directly ran up two more scores as the Lilywhites began to run amok.

"He was tired," McGeeney acknowledged. "We thought that might happen. It was a tough weekend last week with the emotions, but he kept fairly buoyant because he had been out for two and a half months.

"We knew this was going to be even harder on him. Things were probably a wee bit flat because everybody moves on and the family is left to do the grieving.

"He was struggling a wee bit in the first half, and I asked him at half-time to give me 10 minutes and good old Dermot, he gave me 30 and did it very well. That's a sign of a good man."

Earley's point kickstarted a run of seven, including two impressive efforts from Eamon Callaghan between the 38th and 54th minute, a surge of dominance which completely disabled the Antrim challenge.

"We never saw that coming in the second half at all," acknowledged perplexed Antrim boss Liam Bradley. "For some unknown reason we completely lost our shape and Kildare completely tore us to pieces for 15 minutes.

"We had some of the best players in Ulster out there and in the second half they just didn't perform.

"That's a problem with Antrim teams down the years. When push comes to shove, they lie down and certainly in that second half when Kildare put on the pressure we had no answer to it. We certainly didn't fight hard enough."

They did, however, manage three points on the spin between the 56th and 60th minute but most of the Antrim attack malfunctioned -- a direct consequence of tough, sticky defending from the likes of Andriú MacLochlainn, Peter Kelly and Emmet Bolton, in particular, but also the Kildare team as a unit.

As defensive performances go, it was unrecognisable from the one which wilted against Louth a few weeks back.

"That type of thing has an effect and it takes time to build that back," McGeeney admitted. "It won't actually be built back by next week. We need more of a run, but the boys are showing they're getting a bit of bite back."

That McGeeney could introduce talent like David Whyte, Keith Cribben and Gary White from the bench when, in effect, the game was won, shows he has options as the matches now come thick and fast, though there's little doubting that Leitrim represent one of the softest touches of the qualifiers draw, particularly as Kildare have home advantage next weekend.

"Again, I don't know much about them," admitted McGeeney. "I just saw the highlights there. They seem to have a couple of nippy corner forwards. We have to be able to clamp that down.

"I'm sure again everybody's going to be making predictions, but it's the back door system. You're in it. Everybody seems to be on a level par, from the top of division one to the bottom of division four, everybody's competing," he added.

"So it will be no different next week in Newbridge."