Tuesday 12 December 2017

Kildare at a crossroads

While the Lilywhites are improving under McGeeney, how long can so much be invested for so little return?

A headline in one of yesterday's Irish Independent front-page skylines posed the question as to whether this Kildare football team was "cursed".

It was a relevant question to ask on the basis that their last three championship defeats have had the strong whiff of controversy hanging over them.

A team that isn't always easy on itself has had to deal with matters outside their control, such as the determination of officials as to whether players were in the small parallelogram when goals were scored in last year's All-Ireland semi-final and this year's All-Ireland quarter-final, not to mention the last-minute free that nudged Dublin into last month's Leinster final.

You could argue that Kildare have been beneficiaries of close calls themselves this summer. Graham Geraghty's disallowed goal for Meath in June at a critical time, the foul on Tomas O'Connor when the sides met in Navan six weeks later that gave them the cushion of an early penalty and the 'goal' that wasn't from Enda Muldoon which had John Brennan in such a perplexed state 10 days ago all went their way.

But, when the audit of 2011 is complete, it should again be a matter of record that Kildare have been left short-changed by the uncertainty of decision making.

Howeve, the question more relevant to Kildare is not whether they are cursed but whether they are good enough to go the distance and finish what they started out to do almost four years ago under Kieran McGeeney.

'What next?' will be the question springing to mind in every conversation focusing on football in the county this week when the disappointment of last Saturday's defeat begins to fade.

McGeeney has taken Kildare a long, long way from the 2007 championship that saw them lose to Meath first in Leinster and then Louth in the qualifiers. They have improved in every facet of their game to the point where they can consider themselves a top-six team for championship consistency alone over the last four years. When their championship campaigns have eventually wound up in that time at the quarter-final stage or better, it has never been by any more than three points.

But ultimately the pinnacle of the teams they have beaten in championship football has been Meath on three occasions and Derry and Laois twice. Dublin (twice), Cork, Tyrone, Down and now Donegal have all just been beyond them, not to mention early Leinster championship defeats to Wicklow and Louth.

Their record in Division 2 is no better than average, having dropped from Division 1 in 2008, with 12 wins and five draws out of 28 games.

Two of the teams that have ended their interest in the championship over the last four years, Cork and Donegal, have been Division 2 champions over the last three years. It is not a sequence of results in national league or championship that suggests they can take it to the next level.

Between four league campaigns, four Leinster championships and four All-Ireland campaigns there has been drama, atmosphere, excitement, heartbreak, controversy great character. But no title. That's 54 competitive games striving for 12 different titles without return. That is the cold reality of it, harsh as it may seem and McGeeney will understand that.

The investment of money and time in this team has been enormous, and on both counts the financiers and the players will have to ask if they can continue to deposit as much without the tangible reward of silverware.

At the end of last year's championship the Kildare secretary Kathleen O'Neill warned of the need for cost cutting as the spend on inter-county teams rose to almost €741,860 from €659,860 in 2009.

The majority of that 2010 figure would have been spent on the Kildare senior football team and made them the sixth biggest spenders on inter-county teams behind Cork, Tipperary, Dublin and Galway -- four of the biggest dual counties -- and Kerry. In economic terms, that's illustrious company to be keeping.

The investment of time has been even greater. It may be argued that every inter-county team put in the same effort and make the same sacrifices but with Kildare you get the feeling that their players have been going the extra mile pushing the boat out that little bit more.

Nobody will ask harder questions that McGeeney himself. That's always been his way. When they lost to Wicklow in the first round of the 2008 Leinster championship he asked hard questions of himself.

In every year he has been in charge he has improved them.

Even this year they have looked a more polished team at times, even if their exit point from the championship has been four weeks earlier than last year against Down.

McGeeney has committed to another two years in charge and it would come as a major surprise if he doesn't seem them off. Why? Because he places loyalty at the very top of his agenda.

If the players who have been loyal to him over the last four years want him to stay, he'll stay unless the powers of administration decide otherwise. The one guarantee is that these players will want him to stay and that will supplant any concern an officer may have about finance or the damage being done to the club scene as everything is put on hold.

But finding ways to improve isn't easy. There is a bedrock of talent from last year's minor team currently being tapped into and if the injuries to Colm O'Neill, Daniel Goulding and Ciaran Sheehan are accepted reasons for Cork's defeat then Kildare can easily point to the knee injuries of Dermot Earley, Peter Kelly and Hugh Lynch for comfort.

It is going to require patience and a few more critical breaks going their way. It is always going to require a much more concerted effort and greater focus on winning Division 2 of the league next year for a start because they have to know that they have the capacity to close the deal.

But ultimately it's a question of whether they can keep committing so much without the guarantee of a return.

Irish Independent

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