Cian O'Neill clarifies his stance on the new rules as 'tired' Lilies wilt against Jack Cooney's Westmeath men
Westmeath 1-13 Kildare 1-7
Cian O'Neill was keen to clarify matters after his Kildare team bid a surprisingly meek exit from the Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup. Contrary to earlier reports, he is not a fan of the new rules.
Yet that wasn't his main gripe after 14 Lilies wilted in the second half of an initially closely-fought contest at The Downs yesterday.
Westmeath, under the new management of Jack Cooney, took full advantage with a deserved six-point victory that saw them leapfrog Kildare to top spot in their group.
Their reward is a home semi-final against Longford next Saturday, whereas Kildare are left to mull over a deflating end to their pre-season.
The double-yellow dismissal of midfielder Paschal Connell, on the half-hour, could have been cited afterwards as pivotal - Kildare led by two at the time - but their manager wasn't overly convinced.
"It did have an impact on the game, but before that we weren't at it; we weren't at it at all today," O'Neill said.
"Our skill execution was very poor. I think we had 39 turnovers throughout the game. I think we just looked a tired team today and it has been a tough pre-season, to be fair to the lads.
"That performance wouldn't have been good enough to beat anybody. Fifteen men, 14 men, we just weren't at it."
His opposite number was understandably more sanguine.
"Let's be under no illusions, the league is going to take on a completely different dimension," Cooney said.
"But these games are priceless in terms of it's a competitive setting, you get an opportunity to look at different players - and next week will be no different."
Neil Flynn's first-half menace and a 19th-minute poacher's goal from David Slattery, pouncing on a speculative high ball that broke off Westmeath keeper Kevin Fagan, looked to have tilted momentum for the visitors.
Yet a Ger Egan-inspired Westmeath were almost as threatening in a first-half that finished 1-5 to 0-7; and they established an iron grip once Joe Halligan bundled home their goal within 15 seconds of the restart.
Their lead continued to grow as a misfiring Kildare added just two second-half points.
Egan finished with 0-6, including one converted attacking mark; Ronan O'Toole was their next best attacker with 0-3, including a brace of pointed marks; while James Dolan's excellence as sweeper was encapsulated by one flying block (on Keith Cribbin) and a goal-line intervention (to deny Paddy Brophy).
Enough of the match details, straight to the topic that monopolises all football discourse.
Experimental rules. Good or bad?
"I never said I liked the rules. I don't know where that came from, I think somebody was trying to be a bit clever," O'Neill insisted.
"I would have been strongly against the rules coming in myself, but once they came in I just said 'let's get on with it'.
"What I meant was I was excited because it was a challenge from a coaching perspective… that was my attitude from day one."
O'Neill reckoned his team had been penalised twice for an illegal fourth handpass; our count had them punished just once, compared to Westmeath's three.
The Kildare boss had one intriguing observation, pertaining to their loss of Connell for a second yellow after the Kildare midfielder and Sean Flanagan were carded for some off-the-ball 'getting-to-know-yous' at a kick-out.
"What we learned today with the rules is when you go down to 14 men it's pretty difficult to get back into a game because if they decide to press you and you're restricted with that handpass, it definitely favours the team with 15 as opposed to the old rules," O'Neill surmised.
"It didn't impact us in the last two games, but with 14 men today we did suffer."
Cooney, for his part, remains a new rules agnostic. "I don't know… maybe the game lacked a lot of intensity today. Probably a typical pre-league game," he reckoned.
"A lot of it is just where are you on the handpasses? The kickpass then predominantly goes backwards to retain possession, so it takes a lot of the forward impetus out of the game.
"The jury is still out. It's been a very worthwhile exercise, but it probably just stifles that attacking mindset of a team when they're on their third handpass."
SCORERS - Westmeath: G Egan (2f, 1 mark) 0-6, J Halligan 1-0, R O'Toole (2 marks) 0-3, D Lynch, K Martin (1f) S Duncan, N O'Reilly 0-1 each. Kildare: N Flynn (1 mark, 1 '45', 1 f) 0-6, D Slattery 1-0, F Dowling 0-1.
WESTMEATH - K Fagan; B Sayeh, R Wallace, K Daly; D Lynch, J Dolan, N O'Reilly; N Mulligan, S Flanagan; R O'Toole, C McCormack, G Egan; S Duncan, K Martin, J Halligan. Subs: J Maxwell for Daly (52), G Leech for Martin (59), S Pettit for Halligan (60), N Cully for Flanagan (69), J Moran for Mulligan (inj 71).
KILDARE - M Donnellan; M Dempsey, M Barrett, M Hyland; D Malone, E Doyle, J Murray; F Dowling, P Connell; D Slattery, A Tyrrell, C Hartley; N Flynn, B McCormack, P Fogarty. Subs: K Feely for McCormack (33), A Masterson for Fogarty (ht), K Cribbin for Malone (ht), E O Flaherty for McCormack (45), P Brophy for Slattery (49), D Hyland for M Hyland (49), C O'Donoghue for Dowling (56), J Gibbons for Murray (60), P Nash for Tyrrell (62).
REF - B Tiernan (Dublin).