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'We're not at our best yet'


Kildare's Eoghan O'Flaherty in action against Longford's Fergal Reilly. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Kildare's Eoghan O'Flaherty in action against Longford's Fergal Reilly. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Kildare's Eoghan O'Flaherty in action against Longford's Fergal Reilly. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

TWO O'Byrne Cup outings, two wins and a scoring difference of plus 47. Statistically speaking, Jason Ryan's first competitive forays as Kildare football manager could hardly have gone more swimmingly.

They've tallied a cumulative 7-44 against the ransacked rearguards of Athlone IT and Longford while leaking a frugal 0-18 at the other end. All this while featuring less than a handful of regular summer starters. Where, you may ask, have the squandermaniacs of Lilywhite legend gone?

The new boss, as you'd expect, isn't buying any of these premature plaudits.

Leaving aside the fact that Athlone IT and an experimental Longford won't come remotely close to the level of top-flight league opposition coming down the tracks, Ryan insists that they've a mountain of hard work to get through before kickstarting their Division 1 campaign early next month.

And yet, to the neutral eye, there was a most un-January-like pep in their step as they tore through Longford's second-string troops in Newtowncashel on Wednesday night.

"Barry Solan and our various strength and conditioning coaches work them very, very hard to get to that level of fitness," Ryan told The Herald afterwards.

"We're nowhere near where we want to be in a few weeks' time but, please God, by the start of February, we'll be physically fit enough to compete with Mayo."

A selector for the last year of Kieran McGeeney's eventful reign, Ryan has been bowled over by the attitude of every potential panellist since he took the main job.

"During January a lot of counties speak about how few players they have," the former Wexford boss reflected.

"Kildare is football-crazy. Since I've been involved in October, the amount of players that want to be involved is incredible. They all want an opportunity to play.


"So, we've a group playing here (in Newtowncashel) but we've another group back in Kildare that are training and we've another group that are working away to try to get their injuries sorted out.

"We've a lot of guys out with injuries, but for me it's really an interesting time."

The Waterford native goes on to namecheck just some of those familiar names he must plan without, for the time being if not longer.

Alan Smith (groin surgery) should be back next month, whereas Eamonn Callaghan, Eoin Doyle and Niall Kelly (hip operations) are looking more like March.

Peter Kelly is facing three to four months on the sidelines after keyhole knee surgery revealed more damage than expected.

After a succession of injury problems, Morgan O'Flaherty is currently taking an inter-county break. Daniel Flynn has swopped St Conleth's Park for an Aussie Rules career with Port Adelaide. Seánie Johnston is back in Cavan after his ill-starred Kildare odyssey.

Then, of course, you've the lingering question mark over Johnny Doyle's future.

There aren't too many 36-year-olds still able to cut it at county level, while twins arrived in the Doyle household just before Christmas.

Yet the local perception is that Kildare's Mister Indestructible will return for one more campaign. His would-be manager, though, is taking nothing for granted.

"Johnny is not here; he has family commitments so whether he'll be playing in 2014 or not ... like, he has his family to take care of. It's something that we'll discuss in time." The evergreen Allenwood man won't be rushed by Ryan, who concluded: "The man's a legend. He'll be given every opportunity to come back."

A more immediate headache revolves around cutting a provisional panel that stretches towards 60. "We'll cut it down, but we've so many guys that are long-term injuries that you cut it down to a manageable number.


"We've a county board that are backing us. Guys are on trial, so they've a really good attitude," the manager enthused.

"All the lads that have come in know that there's an opportunity now for them to maybe stake a claim for that Mayo match," he added.

"That level of competition is great. We also have a cut coming in a week's time, so some fellas know that their opportunities are coming to an end and they have to make it happen now."

This Sunday, the Lilywhites face Carlow, managed by former Kildare defender Anthony Rainbow, in St Conleth's Park, Newbridge (2.0).