Wednesday 13 December 2017

Eoin Liston: Claiming old rival's scalp can give new lease of life to under-fire McGeeney

Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

When the qualifier draw paired Kildare with Tyrone for today's Round 3 ties, it was clear this would be the one to garner the most attention. Arguably, they are the two strongest teams that went into the hat, but it is the battle of the two men who will be patrolling the sidelines in Newbridge that really has me intrigued.

The rival managers have crossed paths on numerous occasions. Kieran McGeeney was captain and heartbeat of the great Armagh side that represented the biggest obstacle to Mickey Harte's Tyrone making their All-Ireland breakthrough a decade ago.

Both men share many traits. They have a meticulous approach to everything and will do anything within their power to improve themselves and the team.

Harte will be remembered long after he takes his leave from the Tyrone team. I don't think anyone can match him in terms of responsibility for the evolution of football over the past decade.

People will say things like 'oh, we don't need the blanket defence' or that he was overly negative, but this simply isn't true. What Tyrone did at their peak, in 2005 and 2008, they played 'total football'.


Every player on the team was comfortable playing in any position. Corner-backs were given license to attack, but they did so in the knowledge that wing-backs and wing-forwards would be stepping in behind to cover their position. Harte won three All-Ireland titles without an orthodox high-fielding midfielder.

Croke Park seemed to bring the best out of Tyrone – they were irrepressible as they moved like a red and white tornado up the field with possession, while tackling in swarms when they lost it.

There were times, of course, when his team stepped over the line, but the manager can't be blamed for that. Sometimes players take the law into their own hands.

Another thing shared by the two men of late, however, is criticism from their supporters. For Tyrone people to turn on Harte is absurd. He is building a fine team once again, and he has created a legacy in the county that will be almost impossible to top.

For McGeeney, it is slightly different but I do think there have been ridiculous accusations regarding his tenure. Since Kildare were beaten so heavily by Dublin, I have heard his man-management technique come into question. This baffles me. I have witnessed him at work in a dressing-room.

During the International Rules series in Australia two years ago, it was incredible the instant respect Ireland's elite players had for him.

There is no doubt Kieran would not be afraid to give a player the hard facts if required, and he does not suffer fools gladly. However, he is a bright and educated man and is sensitive to the huge range of personalities and individual needs of a 30-man panel.

It is interesting to note that there have been no public criticisms from any players who have worked under him. In the days of social media and constant scrutiny, that alone should tell you how he operates.

Should this be his last game in charge, nobody should view his time tenure as anything but successful. He has turned Kildare from also-rans into a top-eight team. He has overseen a huge turnover of players.

For two years, they were realistic All-Ireland contenders and came up just short, partly down to some poor refereeing decisions. But somewhere along the line they have lost their way, and the Cork defeat last season, coupled with the hammering from Dublin, has left them at a crossroads.

What tonight's game represents is a chance for Kildare to take a major scalp and get some confidence and momentum. They are capable of doing that and it could mean they will be a different animal should they progress.

Tyrone have slipped a bit since they almost beat Dublin in the league final. The loss of Niall Morgan is massive, while Stephen O'Neill hasn't been able to get a decent run of games under his belt because of injuries.

The big question is which Tyrone will turn up this evening? If it is the one who ran Dublin so close in the league final, they will come through. If they play as they did against Roscommon last time out, then the 7/4 odds for a home victory look extremely generous.

Irish Independent

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