Dick Clerkin: Kildare give reason to believe, even in defeat
Amidst all the talk of hope and tradition heading into yesterday's Leinster and Ulster finals, it was impossible to escape an overriding sense of inevitability to what eventually transpired.
Down, as I suspected, showed that they are a few years away from realistically challenging for provincial honours. Kildare, albeit displaying a huge amount of promise, were never going to overcome the Dublin juggernaut at such an early stage of their development.
Leading into yesterday's Ulster final, I didn't buy into the whole Down 'love-in' doing the rounds. Only a few months ago they were castigating each other from within as their league season was in chaos.
In reality, Down were a kick of a ball away from playing Division 3 football next year, and for much of yesterday's final, the true gulf in rankings between both sides was all too apparent.
Down will face either Monaghan or Armagh in two weeks time. By the time most of you read this the draw will have been made. Both Armagh and Monaghan will still be seething from their respective provincial defeats to Down, and with the psychological edge flipped firmly on its head from their previous meetings, a swift and unceremonious end to Down's summer looks likely.
It is said that a true test of any teams' character is how they react in times of adversity. In that regard, Down have two weeks to dust themselves down and show if there is real substance behind their improved fortunes.
Contrary to the manner of Down's defeat to Tyrone, Kildare can take a lot of positives from what was a very brave and progressive approach to their defeat to Dublin.
I use the term progressive, as it was clear that Cian O'Neill can see the potential in his side, and wanted them to take on Dublin in the same way he wants them to play all the time; open, expansive, with a blend of a short and long game. Nobody will want to face Kildare, as they showed plenty of steel and courage yesterday to match their skill and athleticism.
The manner in which you lose your provincial final can have a significant bearing on how the next round of the qualifiers goes. Kildare will likely be the more upbeat dressing room this week, with their proven springtime form a more assured basis for progress than Down's tradition.
Kildare should head into this week in a very positive frame of mind. It is not always thus after losing a provincial final. In 2010 we lost to Tyrone by a similar margin to Kildare yesterday, however we had gone into the game full of expectation, and the disappointment afterwards was palpable around every corner of the county.
I can't imagine a similar feeling simmering around the lush Kildare plains this week after yesterday's credible showing. I would imagine O'Neill and his players, albeit subconsciously, went into yesterday's game with a further agenda, outside of a provincial title.
With that agenda still very much intact, there should be a good atmosphere at training this week, confident that they could still have a big part to play in this year's Championship. Ironically in 2010 we were drawn against Kildare in our last twelve encounter, and faced with the dreaded six-day turnaround it was very hard for us to dismiss our Ulster final disappointment, both physically and mentally.
Kildare should have no such worries. With a comfortable two weeks to shake the exertions of yesterday's high-paced encounter from their limbs, I don't expect the Kildare players to suffer in any way from their defeat. If anything it should bring them on even further.
A competent outing, against the country's best at headquarters, is better than a month's in-house training. O'Neill will likely have the next week's schedule pre-planned, having pragmatically predicted the outcome of yesterday's game. There is nothing like the air of expectation around an upbeat training ground in the white heat of Championship summer.
Any disappointment the Kildare team have after yesterday's games should be short lived. O'Neill, I have no doubt, will be quick to shake this out of them, allowing it linger on any longer than midweek could adversely impact on what could still be a fruitful summer, with plenty to admire and plenty to look forward to.