Saturday 18 November 2017

Unity of purpose has given Kildare an extra dimension

Tommy Conlon

Obviously their first priority was to win the match last Sunday, but in doing so the Kildare players left room for a more holistic interpretation of their work -- at least in the eyes of this viewer.

They struck me quite simply as a team trying to be the best it can be.

Now, in theory, every team is supposed to aspire to this utopian ideal. But in reality most don't, for all sorts of reasons. The most talented teams for example just set out to win whatever is on offer; they set out to be the best among their peers. They have the tools, they don't need to complicate their motivation any more than that. Lesser teams come apart because of a lack of belief, or ambition, or effort; or because of an excess of ego and selfishness; or because their management fails to inspire them.

This Kildare team reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals in 2008 and 2009; it reached the All-Ireland semi-final last year. They have come back for another shot at the title this summer and there they were again on Sunday, demonstrating that impressive resilience in the face of their own flaws. Once again they kicked wide after wide, 18 in total, and once again they didn't allow it to sap their conviction or unity or morale.

It is a thoroughly admirable trait in any team. This inability to convert all that possession into more scores will probably ensure that they fall short again this season. They just do not have the star quality in attack. They do not have any commanding figure in defence either. In fact, barring one obvious exception, they do not have a major individual talent in any line of the team.

But they have consistently tried to compensate for these deficiencies with enormous amounts of hard running and general graft. They are a proper team; the collective effort far exceeds the individual parts. Together they have been banging their heads against the wall of their own limitations. Together they are trying to be the best they can be.

And the one player who symbolises the integrity of that effort is of course John Doyle. It is a blessing for the manager of any team if his best player also happens to be the most conscientious worker too. It's hard to beat that kind of leadership; Doyle exudes the sort of moral authority that any serious team needs. If he is prepared to give of himself so much, then the players around him have no choice but to follow suit.

At half-time last Sunday Pat Spillane on RTE managed the considerable feat of ignoring the evidence of his own eyes. Doyle, playing at midfield, had been everywhere in that first half, scoring a point, providing the assist for another, then tracking back into the full-back line to help on defensive duties too.

But Spillane was dealing in received wisdom rather than the facts of the game: Doyle should be up in the forward line, he was being played out of position. Naturally enough, the pundit ended up eating his words at the final whistle, by which time Doyle had delivered another hugely influential performance. The evidence of his last two midfield displays suggests instead that vast tracts of his long career were wasted in the forward line when he could've been dictating the flow of a game further out the field.

Doyle was a picture of desolation after last year's defeat in the All-Ireland semi-final but the consensus then, as it is now, was that Kildare just didn't have enough 'natural' footballers to get the job done. The consensus is there for a very good reason: it's true.

But the same consensus surrounded the Armagh team during the years of its long, tortuous apprenticeship before it reached the summit in 2002.

The pivotal player in that Armagh team is the Kildare manager now. Kieran McGeeney believes that the world can be bent to one's will, if that will is sufficiently strong. He believes in dedication, in self-improvement and in the long haul. A player can make himself better if he applies himself; a team can make itself better likewise. He knows this because he did it himself and because he saw his Armagh team do it too.

And he has clearly imposed that worldview on this Kildare team. They are striving might and main to be better. Last Sunday they remained relentless in their application despite the escalating wide count, as if it were happening to another team and not them. Meath had much more natural talent in their front six and that didn't seem to spook Kildare either; they were too busy getting on with the game. They out-hustled Meath, outworked and outran them.

They are a running team. They burn a lot of energy, they have a high carbon footprint. They have loads of pace and they use it. But they showed glimpses too of a potential for more economy in their play: their very first score was simplicity in itself, moving the ball swiftly from goalkeeper to corner-forward in four passes.

Theirs is an ongoing project. But they will be dangerous opponents for any team in the rest of this year's championship. Their work-rate and force of will makes them so. They have the desire to improve; and they have the manager to persuade them that their limitations are there to be overcome.

Sunday Indo Sport

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