Doyle: Time for this Kildare team to deliver on the promise
A spiral of defeat can be very difficult to break out of but Kildare captain Eoin Doyle insists 11 games without a win has not broken the spirit of his squad ahead of Sunday's Leinster SFC opener against Carlow.
It's just three weeks short of a year since Kildare last won a competitive game - against Meath in a Leinster semi-final - that opened up possibilities of laying down a real challenge to Dublin in a subsequent final.
They coped adequately with a bad start against the champions and emerged with something to build on but since then losses in a qualifier to Armagh, two O'Byrne Cup and seven league games have stripped away any progression in the first half of 2017.
Doyle feels the rot set in when they failed to take something from back-to-back games in Newbridge against Monaghan and Tyrone in February that they lost by a point.
"It is hard when you are not winning games, particularly those games that you really could have got something out of," he admits.
"Tyrone and Monaghan were both narrow defeats and both early on. If you get an early enough victory under your belt in Division 1, and we've done it in years gone by, you can stay up. You have a different outlook to it. You can go into the next game that bit more confident and that bit less under pressure," he remarks.
"That's where you really need to take a step back and look and see where you are, what you are doing. We remained focused and we stayed working hard throughout the league and since the league and that's all we can control right now."
What drives them, says Doyle, is the sense they're at an age, with so many footballers in their mid-twenties, when they simply must deliver something tangible.
"We're not hiding away from that fact. Everyone on that team and even those of us a little older or younger realise that the quality we have in the team, we're putting the sacrifice in because we want to win something."
And he accepts that as a county with such resources and population they continue to sell themselves short and that burden falls on the players.
"It's not a structural thing. There is massive work being put into underage in Kildare which has produced good teams. It's up to players to deliver the performance they are capable of. And maybe that's what has let us down. On the day, when it's really needed, we've let ourselves down. That's not a structural thing, a population thing. It's a players thing and that's up to us to get right. We're not shying away from that."
Doyle, a member of the Kildare squad since 2012, has overcome a series of hip and groin injuries to emerge as a leader and a solid anchor to their defence.
But he ran into hot water during the league after seeing red for failing to comply with the direction of ref David Gough to put in a gum-shield in their loss to Donegal.
Doyle, already on a yellow, sought to gather a kick-out while on his way over to the sideline to get a replacement mouth-guard, Gough produced a second yellow on the basis that he wasn't complying with his direction. It left Kildare boss Cian O'Neill fuming and Doyle insists his action was instinctive.
"If you see a video of the match, I'm running over to the sideline roaring at Cian and Rolie (Ronan Sweeney) to throw out a gum-shield and then the ball just came. I thought nothing of it, obviously the ref thought more of it," he says.
Doyle would like to see more consistency on the issue from referees but acknowledges it was a lesson learned for everyone.
"Maybe when I lost my original gum shield I should have been clued into going over to get another one. When you're in the thick of it, you hardly realise you have lost it. You can learn from it, not just me but everyone in the country.
"I'd imagine after that incident a lot of referees would be clamping down on it more. That's the thing, that level of inconsistency."