Saturday 21 April 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Kildare have all the ingredients to win titles, but today is too soon

Kevin Feely is one of three former professional athletes in the Kildare team, along with Daniel Flynn and Paddy Brophy Photo: Sportsfile
Kevin Feely is one of three former professional athletes in the Kildare team, along with Daniel Flynn and Paddy Brophy Photo: Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

After watching some of the hurling games over the last few weeks, I've come to the conclusion that football and hurling should be completely separated and run as different organisations. The rules in terms of contact in the two codes are supposed to be basically the same, but in practice they are worlds apart. In fact, almost anything goes in hurling. Referees interfere as little as possible and the game does not suffer as a consequence.

When I saw New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams being sent off in the second Test against the Lions, I thought somebody should get him over to Ireland to play with a few county teams. The shoulder to the head, which got him a red card in the rugby match, would hardly be a free in hurling.

By contrast, the last few weeks in football have been blighted by yellow, black and red cards, many of them wrong, wrong, wrong. The absence of 'cop on' is a serious character flaw in most people. In referees, it is catastrophic and we have seen several games where referees, by giving black cards in particular, are having a decisive impact on games.

Referees do not seem to get it. The majority of fouls are not deliberate and black cards are easy to see. Just because someone ends up on the ground does not mean there are deliberately dragged down.

Much of that also applies to yellow cards and I wonder if a good referee like Conor Lane did not bring any cards onto the pitch with him would the match degenerate into a complete shambles? Sanctions should be a last resort, not the first reaction for minor things. That just puts the referee and the player on thin ice for the rest of the match.

If there was a table drawn up by the GAA to show who issues the most cards, it would be interesting to see who would wear the yellow jersey. I have my suspicions, but I wonder is there anyone advising the referees to go easy on cards. The matches are not going to degenerate into all-out war.

Neither Kildare nor Dublin will be worried about cards today and I hope referee Anthony Nolan shows none unless there is a danger of murder. In Washington Irving's story, Rip Van Winkle went to sleep for 20 years, but after waking from what he thought was an overnight sleep found that everything had changed. If the same happened now he would probably find that Dublin were still winning Leinster Championships and the suits were still telling us that the format was working well.

At this stage Dublin winning matches is good news in some ways. They play attractive football, the crowds keep coming and the revenue keeps the GAA ship afloat. Who said you can't fool all of the people all of the time?

Kildare are next up for flogging, except Kildare have prospects. It may take some time, it may not even come in this management cycle, but the group in charge now have a squad of players who have all the basic qualities to win Leinsters and All-Irelands.

First of all they are big, then they are mobile, well-conditioned and have five or six outstanding players. So long as the rest are willing to play their part as workers there is the basis of ultimate success. As a bonus, quite a few have also won provincial medals, most recently at under 21 level, so they have had a taste of success. Of all the teams outside the top three or four, Kildare seem to me to have the best chance of making the step up.

That is a big statement, because Kildare are always prone to self-destruction and there is no other county quite like them to completely collapse and disintegrate in about five minutes. The real test for them today is how they react to being under serious pressure or being five or six behind with ten minutes to go. Then the character of the man is examined as distinct from their football ability. Kildare have not had that searching examination yet.

In Dara Ó Cinnéide's very interesting programmes on the GAA, Kildare were shown to be ahead of most with new technology. At least some of what teams are employing seem to me to be costly gimmicks. At club and college level, I have used tracking and statistics on possessions etc, but these things are still only a small part of good management. The naked eye is still the best tool. Distance covered, number of possessions, the number of sprints and so on should only confirm what you are seeing. They are all aids but if you can't see who is doing the real work then you should be in the stand.

Anyway, I do not see a Kildare collapse today even if the betting is now based on what Dublin will win by. They have three former professional athletes in their team - Kevin Feely, Daniel Flynn and Paddy Brophy. They are all good players too, even if Brophy needs to get his head up and bring others into it quicker.

Against Meath, he should have created goal chances by being a bit slicker. Flynn will run at the defence, sometimes too much, but he will cause Dublin problems and Feely is a big man who won't mind if Cluxton has to kick long. Along with these, Kildare have a link man of vision in Niall Kelly and a corner-back in Ollie Lyons who has the pace to break the line. Most of the moving parts are in place then.

Of course Dublin dance to their own tune. Most teams have coined the phrase, "transition" to explain how slow or fast they get the ball from the backs to a position to putting it over the bar or into the net. Dublin are the masters at this. They have listened to the old people who say "the ball travels faster than the man". This was to explain why people should kick the ball and Dublin do it better than anyone else. They also have real pace in every line and the sort of athleticism that Kildare aspire to.

Since the league final when many thought Dublin were showing signs of being human, I have advocated the opposite and that Dublin were trying to be just a championship team unlike other years when they went for everything. The massacre of Westmeath was sending out that signal.

Kildare are unlikely to stop them today, but this is a sign of the future. Can Kildare do enough to convince everyone, but most especially themselves, that they are a force of the future? That may seem like a defeatist attitude but Rome was not built in a day. Kildare to play with honesty but Rip Van Winkle can keep sleeping. The Dubs will still be in charge.

The Ulster final is a serious affair too, even if the expected Tyrone v Monaghan final has not materialised. After Tyrone annihilated Donegal, I revised my opinion about them, they were always going to be Ulster contenders but did not seem to have the forward power to go the whole way.

In that regard, I judge Dublin, Kerry, Tyrone and Mayo by different standards than the rest as Sam Maguire is a possibility for them but not for the rest. Now Tyrone seem to have got their "transition" right on the basis of the Derry and Donegal displays. However, there is a caveat in that Donegal have struggled in the qualifiers since.

Down bring a bit of the old romance but there is no long shadow anymore. There is no Paddy Doherty, Sean O'Neill, James McCartan senior or junior, Greg Blayney or Mickey Linden. The list is endless and modern players can suffer and be suffocated by this weight of names and performances. Just as the team of the 1990s did, this present group can escape the weight of history by making their own glorious tradition and the spirited performances against Armagh and Monaghan shows there is nothing wrong with desire and heart.

Tyrone, though, are a bit ahead of the rest in Ulster and won't be caught lacking in motivation. Down would need to score a few goals but it would be easier to break into Fort Knox. The problems for Down also come when Tyrone release their bench which usually adds five or six points. I am glad for Eamonn Burns that the tide has turned, but there is a big wave coming and I will be surprised if Tyrone don't win by at least six.

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