KILDARE’S love affair with the back door now borders on obsession. For Laois, the qualifiers have become less a scenic detour than a demoralising dead end.
Put those two facts together and you’ve got a 15-point rout. The 3-16 to 0-10 outcome to this derby duel may be slightly misleading, given that Kildare rattled over an unanswered 1-7 from the 58th minute, their swagger growing with every spectacular scoring flourish. But, even though Laois ‘only’ trailed by five points with 15 minutes remaining, there can be no hiding place after this ramshackle performance in front of their own O’Moore Park supporters.
Even their periods of first half dominance were undermined by laborious and sometimes clueless approach play, while in the second half they were annihilated. End of. “We’re devastated,” admitted manager Justin McNulty. “Kildare completely outplayed us in the second half – technically, tactically, in every area of performance they totally outclassed us today in the second half. The manner of the defeat was incredible.”
Just as incredible is Kildare’s back door record in the ‘Geezer’ era. Over the past four summers they have played 10 qualifier matches, winning nine and drawing one. Asked to explain it all, Kieran McGeeney demurred: “I could be having a different conversation with you next week.” But his skipper, Johnny Doyle,offered an insight into why Kildare have embraced the second-chance saloon with such gusto. “There’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself,” he explained. “You take a day or two to get it (provincial defeat) out of your system and you go again. “In fairness to Kieran and the management, that’s what they’ve instilled in us. And that doesn’t happen overnight.
It’s been four hard years to get that belief. When the back door started we were very poor at it, and now maybe we’ve got mentally a bit tough. That’s what it takes.” HAVOC Another recurring Kildare theme is their penchant for starting like Dad’s Army and finishing like Usain Bolt. They trailed by two points before Doyle’s placed penalty finally opened their account in the 15th minute. Recalled full-forward Tomás O’Connor was the instigator-in-chief, with a soaring take and lay-off to the inrushing Eoghan O’Flaherty, duly fouled by Shane Julian.
When O’Connor repeated the high-fielding trick six minutes later, his first attempt was blocked by Mark Timmons but he gratefully poked home the rebound. The Clane ‘climber’ continued to wreak havoc with three further assists either side of the interval, which arrived with Kildare 2-3 to 0-6 ahead despite losing the first-half kickout battle 12-7. Doyle had already claimed a couple of kickouts before half-time; upon the resumption Kildare’s midfield pairing grew ever-more influential, both as ball-winners and score-getters.
The captain nailed four frees while Hugh Lynch transformed into Roy Race with a spectacular hat-trick of points, all struck unerringly with the outside of his right boot. Soon after Lynch’s third, from a monster free, Pádraig O’Neill delivered a pinpoint long pass in to James Kavanagh, and the Laois net danced for a third time in the 66th minute. McNulty may have sealed top-flight promotion in his debut campaign, but hard questions are bound to follow such a deflating summer campaign. Former player Colm Parkinson was first out of the Twitter traps, tweeting that McNulty “has to go” and that he won’t pick Portlaoise players.
The manager laughed off Parkinson’s tirade, responding: “Count how many Portlaoise players played today. That answers the question.” We counted one starter (Cahir Healy) and two subs (Conor Boyle and Kieran Lillis). But what about their tendency, once they came within 45 metres of Kildare’s goal, for lateral or even backward passes? “You have to say Kildare had a very effective defensive system. They played the blanket defence to a treat,” McNulty reasoned. “Tactically, we were totally outgunned and outclassed by Kildare and I hold my hands up.”