Doyle does the dirty work to dig Kildare out of hole
As long as John Doyle, 35 years young later this month, is willing to crawl on his hands and knees to secure possession with a garrison of Wexford men on his back, as he did in the dying stages in Newbridge yesterday to set up the winning goal, Kildare's pulse will continue to beat strongly.
Doyle has apparently been pondering his inter-county future in recent months, but watching him scramble at the end to tee up James Eaton to initiate the move for Morgan O'Flaherty's game-clinching goal will serve as a perfect example to the younger players that now populate the squad as to what leadership is all about.
How could they even let him consider riding off into the sunset? This was a game Kildare didn't have to win for O'Byrne Cup advancement – their passage to a semi-final (they play Offaly on Sunday) was already secure.
But before Doyle pushed his nose in the dirt one last time two minutes into injury-time, quite a capitulation was on the cards.
From seven points ahead (0-11 to 0-4) 11 minutes into the second half, they were pegged back and Shane Roche's goal in injury-time gave Wexford the lead for the first time.
It wasn't something Kildare wanted on their report sheet so early in the season – not with the toughest Division 1 league campaign in modern times ahead – so they quickly set about addressing the situation.
Eaton had the composure to pick out O'Flaherty behind the cover as Wexford congregated around Doyle and the finish from the half-forward, more noted for his sweeping duties in the past, was composed.
Cue a melee that quickly dissolved but still resulted in second yellows for Wexford's Graeme Molloy and Kildare's Emmet Bolton as referee Maurice Deegan consulted with his officials to send them off.
Naturally Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney took heart from the pursuit of victory at the end to win a game they dominated but almost lost.
"They showed that they wanted to win it. It was hard when everyone was telling them before that it doesn't matter. It was good to see it. To have the courage to go for the goal, that was a positive thing," he said.
The game pitted Jason Ryan, now coach for Kildare, against his former team but his successor Aidan O'Brien was quick to acknowledge afterwards that a Wexford win would have been unfair on the balance of play.
"I'd be practical enough to acknowledge that," O'Brien said. "Early in the second half they raced into a seven-point lead and us getting back into the game was as much about them sitting back a little as it was about us turning the tide. It was unfortunate that once we got the goal we didn't hold it."
In his six years with Kildare, McGeeney has never overseen such a change in personnel, with five U-21s featuring at various stages yesterday.
They have promise – Cathal McNally sent over two fine points from centre-forward – but this season may just come too soon for some of them. Pressed on whether it was his strongest squad in six years McGeeney ventured that it was certainly "different".
"The most pleasing thing is that they are keen. They really want to play for Kildare," he said.
And the door remains open for James Kavanagh, who left the squad last week because of an inability to commit 100pc.
"The door is open for everybody," McGeeney insisted. "I said this before and everyone thought I meant that I was looking for inter-county players from around the country. But what I mean is that it's an open-door policy.
"Any club player that feels he can offer something, it's just a matter of saying, 'give me a chance for four or five weeks'. James had his own thing going on. He made it clear about his personal situation and it's tough. He also knows to exist at this level you have to be 100pc behind it. You have to be very careful at inter-county level when you're dealing with family lives. There are other issues that are greater than football.
"Most of us are lucky that we have strong families around us who love us enough to give us that freedom, but sometimes there are things more important than football."
Once again Kildare's Mikey Conway worked impressively in the half-back line, where he was at his best prior to his injury troubles, while Brian Flanagan was name-checked afterwards by McGeeney for his industry.
Conway's three points from placed balls came from considerable distances which, in the conditions, were impressive scores. Kildare led by 0-5 to 0-4 at the interval but pulled seven clear within 11 minutes of the restart. Redmond Barry, a half-time substitute, added impetus to Wexford's effort, but some of their foot-passing let them down badly and played into Doyle's hands.
In the end Doyle completed a virtuoso performance – seven points, with four from play – by doing what he does best of all and rolling up his sleeves.
Scorers – Kildare: J Doyle 0-7 (3f), M Conway 0-3 (2f, 1 '45'), M O'Flaherty 1-0, C McNally 0-2, E Bolton 0-1. Wexford: S Roche 1-3 (0-2f), P J Banville 0-3 (2f), R Barry 0-2 (2f), K Gore, A Masterson, C Doyle 0-1 each.
Kildare – S Connolly; E Doyle, M Foley, H McGrillen; P Kelly, M Conway, E Bolton; H Lynch, G White; M O'Flaherty, C McNally, B Flanagan; P Brophy, J Doyle, D Flynn. Subs: P O'Neill for Lynch (h-t), M Konstantin for Kelly (h-t), J Eaton for Flynn (53), P Fogarty for Brophy (53), E O'Flaherty for McNally (59).
Wexford – A Masterson; S Culleton, G Molloy, J Wadding; A Doyle, D Murphy, B Malone; D Waters, C Doyle; C Carty, K Gore, P Byrne; S Roche, K Kehoe, P J Banville. Subs: R Barry for Kehoe (h-t), P Kelly for Carty (49), J Leacy for Byrne (55), S Gaule for Gore (61), R Quinlivan for Murphy (70).
Ref – M Deegan (Laois).