Friday 23 February 2018

Why Lilies must learn from past mistakes

Diarmuid Connolly shoots on goal for Dublin despite the efforts of Kildare’s Morgan O'Flaherty during the last Championship meeting between the counties in 2011
Diarmuid Connolly shoots on goal for Dublin despite the efforts of Kildare’s Morgan O'Flaherty during the last Championship meeting between the counties in 2011

Christy O'Connor

After Kildare's All-Ireland U-21 semi-final defeat to Galway in April, Kieran McGeeney was lined up against the wall and condemned once more.

Kildare were hot favourites but their old profligate habits nailed them. They enjoyed almost 60pc possession but kicked 19 wides. They managed just seven scores from 34 scoring chances. Eight Kildare players shot wides. Fionn Dowling, who won a world of possession, kicked six alone.

With a team that supposedly contained the best crop of young players in the county's modern history, the defeat was a hammer-blow for Kildare.

Especially given the amount of faith that McGeeney had invested in the main players from the group. Six had started in the previous week's NFL semi-final against Tyrone, but Paul Cribbin was the only one who played to the standard McGeeney would have expected in that U-21 match. Even Cribbin's display contained an asterisk – he kicked four wides.

The multitude of wides was only one criticism. McGeeney was hammered for not making more tactical adjustments or substitutions. The three subs he did bring on were introduced with less than 10 minutes remaining when the game was effectively over.

Although that U-21 panel was light on back-up, the common perception in Kildare is that a lack of tactical awareness on the sideline during a game, allied with his slowness to make changes, are McGeeney's biggest weaknesses as a manager.

There have been occasions when McGeeney has been tactically outfoxed and outmanoeuvred but, of his 10 championship defeats as Kildare manager, only two would stringently fit in to that category.

For all the criticism of his failure to make changes, there have been other occasions when McGeeney has been radical. In 2011, he introduced Sean Hurley for his debut against Dublin. After failing to get the ball in his hands, McGeeney hauled him off 17 minutes later.

McGeeney was accused of being too loyal to some players in the past but that charge certainly can't be levelled at him this year. This is the best squad he has had during his six years in charge but Dublin are stronger now too, and there is a strong possibility that Kildare's young players may have already peaked after a long season.

Either way, how much McGeeney and Kildare have learned from past encounters against Dublin will be crucial to their chances on Sunday.

Hit two goals for the first time against Dublin in championship

When Kildare landed 18 points in the 2009 Leinster final, it was the joint-highest number of scores ever recorded from play in a provincial decider.

They had only one scoreable free in that match, which they missed, and the two goals Dublin scored were ultimately the difference.

In the 32 championship matches Kildare have played under McGeeney, they have scored just 28 goals. They have hit two goals or more in just seven of those games. They won all seven matches but four of them were total routs.

Kildare have only won two big games when scoring two goals – the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final against Meath, and the qualifier against the same opposition a year later.

Kildare will probably need two goals to win on Sunday, but they showed an increased goalscoring capacity during the league, when they scored more goals (10) than any other team in the top two divisions. That was a greater number of goals than Kildare had ever scored before in the league under McGeeney, which included four seasons in Division 2.

Kildare have always had the option of going long and direct with Tomas O'Connor, but they didn't start him against Dublin in 2011 because his form was poor. His form has also been mixed this year. With O'Connor often better when coming in to the game – he set up 1-1 when introduced against Dublin in 2011 – Kildare's best option may be to start Hurley at full-forward.

Hurley has the ball-winning ability and the brash style to take on his man but John Doyle will also need to be playing off him. Doyle privately admitted recently that he hasn't had to do anything like the donkey-work he was required to do in the past out the field.

That slack is picked up now by some of the new young players. Kildare were too often forced to play Doyle at midfield but having him closer to goal is crucial if they are to crack Dublin open with goals.

Kildare had 27 shots at the target against Offaly but only two of those were goal chances, both of which were saved. On Sunday, they will have to convert whatever goal chances they can manufacture.

Win their kick-outs

When Kildare met Dublin in the league, McGeeney was resting his U-21s but also clearly keeping his powder dry with Sunday in mind.

Kildare's kick-out stats that day were a nightmare, 38-12 in Dublin's favour. Although Doyle had scored 2-8 in their previous league games, McGeeney still opted to switch him to midfield.

Kildare clearly borrowed a tactic from the Jason Ryan playbook from his time with Wexford, by repeatedly allowing Dublin to win possession from their own short kick-out. Kildare had never used that tactic before and it's difficult to see them using it again on Sunday.

Kildare will be confident that Daryl Flynn will secure enough possession from both teams' kick-outs. Flynn is playing well and if he reaches the level he hit against Donegal in 2011, Kildare will have a very solid platform on which to build.

Dublin will be more powerful in the middle eight but Kildare can match them there for pace. Kildare also have the players to hit hard on the counterattack. Then it will be all about guys like Daniel Flynn and Cribbin being ultra-composed and clinical when they get within scoring range.

Shut down Dublin's goal threat

Kildare can't afford to give up goals to Dublin but the loss of Ollie Lyons is massive because he has a good track record on Bernard Brogan.

McGeeney spoke during the week of the threat Dublin have attacking the 'D' and that's why they will probably play Eamonn Callaghan as a sweeper. His distribution qualities will also be critical in that role.

Kildare will have plenty of bodies behind the ball, especially around the 'D' when Dublin are probing. Kildare will want to restrict Dublin to shooting for scores from 35-40 yards. Dublin have the players to convert those scoring opportunities but Kildare can't allow Dublin to stride away from them with goals.

Don't allow Dublin build up an early lead

In 2009, Kildare trailed by 1-3 to 0-0 after four minutes. In 2011, they were behind by 1-7 to 0-4 at half-time. Kildare clawed the deficit back on both occasions but, if they are chasing the game early on Sunday, it could get ugly.

For the first time under McGeeney, Kildare downed tools last year when Cork got a run on them. That was probably one of the main reasons McGeeney overhauled the side afterwards. This side won't concede defeat that easily. There is also more pace and energy in this team.

Equally, though, a side with so many young players can't afford that risk of having to chase a game against a machine with the foot pressed on the accelerator.

Hanging in there will never have been as important.

Irish Independent

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