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Lilies set to bloom with youths


Daniel Flynn, Kildare, in action against Michael Brazil, Offaly. Picture: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Daniel Flynn, Kildare, in action against Michael Brazil, Offaly. Picture: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Daniel Flynn, Kildare, in action against Michael Brazil, Offaly. Picture: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

THERE are exactly no points for artistic merit in the Leinster SFC so Kildare's Saturday evening victory over Offaly can be judged as efficient, effective and encouraging.

More than that, over the course of the unnecessarily long four-week break until they play Dublin on June 30, Kieran McGeeney can contemplate something resembling at least cautious optimism, even if ensuring events in Croke Park on Saturday may equally have highlighted the urgent need for significant self-improvement.

At the end, 0-19 to 1-12 was the scoreline but the facts and their relevance acquired wider context due to the fact that McGeeney, no doubt emboldened by their U21 performances and physical attributes, started five championship debutants.

He later brought on another off the bench, and has started afresh this summer by mining Kildare's natural resources.

As the match wore on, those who he has invested so much in this year proved to their manager that their development is right on track and that his decision to place so much faith in their rising stock was a wise one.

So much so that you get the impression that if Kildare can do what they have flatly failed to do under McGeeney's reign and pull off a win against the Dubs in a month, so soon into their evolution, it could well be the creation of a Lilywhite monster.

So encouraged was McGeeney afterwards with what he had just witnessed, he half-joked: "Maybe the older boys have to look at the younger boys and see how it's done.

"Any way you win is a good way to win though I get annoyed at sloppiness.

"But they know that themselves, they don't have to be told.

"The last 10 minutes they should have been home and hosed but we weren't and they tried to make a game out of it."

The figures alone are impressive, though. Paul Cribbin and Niall Kelly, easily the pick of the newbies, scored four points apiece from a half-forward line that, when you incorporate the characteristically hectic output of Eoghan O'Flaherty, contributed a dozen points from play.

Of the others, Daniel Flynn gave a highly productive 70 minutes in midfield, Mark Donnellan made one awkward save late on but generally hit the money on his kickouts and even if Paddy Brophy didn't score on his maiden summer appearance, he was still at least as effective as the similarly scoreless Tomás O'Connor and certainly less selfish than Seánie Johnston after he was introduced.

"They were all flying and you can't ask for more," said McGeeney.

"Eight points between two of them in the forward line from play, it's hard to argue with those facts and Paddy won every ball given into him.

"Every single one stuck to him, he just didn't turn and get the shots off. Daniel was exceptional in midfield as well."

It was one of those routine early Leinster SFC games, really.

Kildare led by the seventh minute and, after the 26th, Offaly never registered parity.

The margin at half-time was just three (0-10 to 0-7) but somewhat predictably, given the team's respective billings and their experience and conditioning, Kildare kicked eight points to Offaly's three in the period after half-time to subjugate any threat.

It wasn't all polish and gleam though, and McGeeney used the words "sloppy" or "sloppiness" six times in his post-match media address.

"Some of our hand-passing was very sloppy.

"We didn't give them a goal chance in 60 minutes and then gave them three in the last 10 minutes," he said, even if David Halon's penalty in the 70th minute ultimately served only cosmetic purposes.

Goals? Kildare might have had a few, but it was a mixture of clinical deficiency and, to be absolutely fair, the skill of Offaly goalkeeper Alan Mulhall that denied them the sight of a green flag on the day.

Twice in the first half, Mulhall tipped shots over the bar, firstly from Cribbin and then from Eoghan O'Flaherty, while he also denied Tomás O'Connor from close range late on.

"He's a great 'keeper. He done the same last year, pulled off three great saves," McGeeney insisted.

"The one off Eoghan was exceptional.

"We'd a couple of chances in the second half too. Tom was through and Seán was through at the end too."

For Offaly, in their first championship appearance in Croke Park for six years, progress under Emmet McDonnell is plainly obvious and if he can keep the squad together and maintain a similar graph of improvement, they won't be so long out of the limelight again.

"We're disappointed," the Offaly manager admitted.

"We're not here for moral victories but there was about 10 minutes in the second half when their fitness and strength from the bench overpowered us.

"We're six months training at this level whereas they're six years training under Kieran McGeeney. That was probably the difference there."

For Kildare, meanwhile, there is a crack at their bête noire in four weeks' time, as box-office an offering as you're likely to get this side of the August bank holiday.