Saturday 25 November 2017

Kildare's goal plight

It's as obvious as stating that the Irish economy has to grow to climb its way clear of recession.

But unless Kildare start converting more of the plethora of goal chances they are creating, they can ditch hopes of applying any sort of pressure on the top three -- Dublin, Kerry and Cork -- in Gaelic football; pressure most observers now feel they have positioned themselves well enough to apply.

Kieran McGeeney, who has guided their steady rise over the last four years, was keen to point out after last Saturday night's defeat to Tyrone in Croke Park that Kildare have sorted out a lot in that period to make them the competitive force they are.

From converting more scorable frees to winning more kick-outs and making more telling tackles, Kildare have enjoyed a sustained graph rise on many fronts in McGeeney's time in charge.

They aren't far away, but how much closer can they get if they continue to squander the type of chances they engineered in front of goal against Tyrone last Saturday?

It was the clear difference between the teams, as McGeeney pointed out afterwards, but that has become a recurring theme over the last four years.

They have developed a reputation for profligacy when it comes to scoring goals, even if the statistics by comparison to Kerry are kinder to them.

Paudie O'Neill shot too high from a good position in the first half -- a position from which Martin Penrose goaled early in the second half -- and Eamonn Callaghan sliced wide from close range late in the game -- those were possibly the best examples of why that reputation has developed.

In 69 games, incorporating league, championship and O'Byrne Cup and Shield fixtures since McGeeney took charge and changed the way Kildare did their business in late 2007, the Lilywhites have scored 54 goals to give them a goal-to-game ratio of 0.78.

Strip away the pre-season provincial games which are often played on wet and heavy sods and that percentage ratio rises to 0.81 goals per game, an average of four goals in every five games.

That puts them closer to Kerry than any of the other top three teams who have shared the last three All-Ireland titles. Kerry's ratio is just below one goal per game at 0.93, which removes the perception that they are a team that can suffocate opponents with goals.

They don't. If anything it's the timing of their goals that makes the difference.

And when you examine the championship returns from Kerry and Kildare, there is further comfort for the Leinster county -- they both average one goal per game.

But Cork and Dublin both average more than one goal per game in all competitions, and unless Kildare can bridge that gap, it's difficult to see them breaking the cartel.

From those 69 games played under McGeeney, there were 29 when Kildare scored no goals at all, a 42pc failure rate, which is far higher than the corresponding figure for any of the last three All-Ireland champions. Without the O'Byrne Cup/Shield fixtures, that percentage rate remains much the same.

In contrast, over the same period of time Dublin have failed to score in just 14 of the 51 games in league and championship that they have played, including Saturday night's defeat to Kerry in Croke Park.

Cork have not scored a goal in 19 of the 55 league and championship games they've played under Conor Counihan's stewardship, while Kerry have endured just 16 goalless games from a total of 57.

It's not something Kildare are blind to and they continue to work towards improving their ratio.

But only once, against Laois in last year's qualifiers, have they scored more than two goals in 54 league and championship games.

Of some comfort to Kildare is that their championship goal return is much greater than in the league over the four-year period analysed. From 25 championship games they have scored 25 goals, which gives them a perfect 1:1 ratio.

But in better conditions and in games played at a faster pace, goals are always more likely to flow. Over the same period Dublin have scored 25 goals from 21 games, Kerry have 26 from 26 and Cork have 34 from 25.

Kildare's goals under McGeeney have mainly sprung from a group of five -- James Kavanagh (10), John Doyle (8), Alan Smith (7), Ronan Sweeney (7) and Callaghan (5).

But none of the above come with reputations as instinctive predators -- and in Smith's case he seems to have regressed from 2009, a season in which he plundered five of his seven goals.

Perhaps if Seanie Johnston is cleared to play in the coming weeks he can provide some of that missing spark. Johnston's goal-scoring record with Cavan, especially in the championship, is poor but he is always capable of innovative plays.

Clinical finishing is not something that can be easily coached. That daring, that sense of the unexpected around the goals, is more often than not an instinctive business.

It's something Kildare simply have to find more of.

Irish Independent

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