Monday 27 January 2020

Dick Clerkin: Kildare heroics could be kick-start the Championship sorely needs

Kildare manager Cian O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
Kildare manager Cian O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

History is written by the victors, and nobody will realise that this morning more than Cian O'Neill (below) and his defiant Kildare players.

Whatever about the rights and wrongs of last week's events, the team and management knew they had to deliver after the furore - and nobody could have asked for more.

When that victory was secured with David Gough's final whistle, the euphoria displayed by the Kildare players and supporters towards their management hasn't been seen since Mick O'Dwyer's time in charge.

Whatever about getting the right result, the manner and character shown by his team in the final quarter of an epic contest must have the manager on cloud nine.

In pure footballing terms he has every right to be. Hard though it is to believe after what we saw on Saturday, it's not long since Kildare's new heroes, on and off the pitch, were under serious pressure on the back of a 12-game losing streak.

This morning they will be looking towards the rest of the summer with unlimited ambition. It has been some turnaround.

Momentum means so much and none of the four defeated provincial finalists will have anything like the positivity buoying Kildare when they meet next weekend.

As for Tyrone, Monaghan and Armagh, they have done what was needed, albeit unconvincingly, to navigate their way to the last 12.

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On TV duty in Brewster Park on Saturday, I got to see Tyrone in the flesh for the third time this summer and again left unconvinced as to their lofty ambitions as realistic contenders for Sam.

On the way to their last All-Ireland in 2008, they also negotiated their way through the qualifiers in an unconvincing manner, before a smash and grab raid in the All-Ireland.

On face value, this Tyrone panel simply doesn't have the same calibre, or big-game experience to draw on when the stakes heighten. Still short a couple of marquee forwards, it is hard to see any real improvements from the way that they fell so far short against Dublin last year.

Armagh are in bonus territory following a no-show against Fermanagh in their opening game and, while I would be afraid to say it in front of their manager Kieran McGeeney, his irritability at fickle supporters and uncomplimentary media is possibly creating a siege mentality in the Orchard County.

Not unfamiliar to the resolve shown by Kildare in the final moments against Mayo, Armagh showed immense courage to steal a result against Clare when the game looked to be beyond them.

Regardless of their critics, Armagh have every chance of getting to the 'Super 8s' and that would be a massive achievement for a young side, especially in the absence of Jamie Clarke.

Of all the teams that have arrived at the last 12, Monaghan have been under the radar with little or no change in their stock following their shock defeat against Fermanagh.

Routine victories away to Division 4 sides Waterford and Leitrim will have contributed little more than hefty travel expenses for a team that has had its sights on the new-look quarter-finals since the beginning of the year.

Most Monaghan fans, myself included, are still hurting after that defeat in Omagh. I would be lying if I said these past few victories provided any sort of meaningful remedy.

I am still backing them to have a big say this summer, but they need a big game soon, to pitch them back at the top-tier intensity I know they are capable of performing at.

Confidence, or lack thereof, has a huge influence in the performance levels of individuals and teams, regardless of fitness and ability.

Teams like Kildare, Tyrone, Monaghan and Armagh, after progressing through the qualifiers, have had an opportunity to rebuild their confidence; conversely, their potential opponents are still smarting from losses in provincial finals, and with dented confidence it is no surprise that the success rates of beaten provincial finalists progressing to the quarter-finals is so low.

In the last three years, only four out of 12 beaten provincial finalists have progressed to the quarter-finals. It is interesting to note the comparison across all four winning teams this weekend.

Each suffered their own ignominious defeats, against the odds, in their respective provincial battlegrounds. Each have recovered, to varying degrees, and find themselves one step away from a major prize.

After next weekend, the 'Super 8s' line-up will be known, and don't be surprised to see all four of this weekend's winners in situ. Then, their provincial failures will be forgotten and the battle lines redrawn.

Cian O'Neill drew his own battle lines this past week, and his players responded with a courageous display. Hopefully it will be the kick-start this year's Championship sorely needs.

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