Wednesday 17 January 2018

Lilywhites' composure a valuable commodity

Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

Bragging rights are very important in derby games in the GAA so it was no wonder that the Kildare fans were in ecstasy when they watched their team beat Meath for the third time this year, and in Navan as well, in a thrilling and high-tempo game.

But, of course, the most significant aspect of this result was that it brought Kildare within one game of a place in the All- Ireland quarter-finals for the fourth successive year and all through the back door system.

Kildare have now moved up the inter-county rankings to either third or fourth in the pecking order, depending on your point of view, and they are definitely serious All-Ireland contenders.

Mind you, from a purely football point of view this was not their best performance of the year by any means.

Instead, it was a war of of attrition in blustery conditions where every ball was fiercely contested.

Kildare were in trouble in several positions and at different periods of the game but still managed overcome all obstacles and win this serious contest in the final few minutes -- something that has not always been the case with Kildare teams in the past.

Of course this was not your typical Meath football team either and in former times they would certainly have availed of the opportunities they had to steal this game at the death.

But things have changed -- for the worse -- in Meath football and games that were traditionally won by them are no longer so.

There were deficiencies in the Meath team -- in defence in particular -- which cost them the game but in several positions there were Meath players who seem to have deteriorated quite a bit since last year or the year before.

This applied particularly to the Meath forwards who cut such a dash in recent years but on Saturday were reduced to mediocre play in many situations.

Kildare will have lots to ponder upon following this game, not least the fact that their defenders contributed no less than 1-4 from play.

That is not a negative for Kildare but it does indicate that their attack was far from brilliant over the course of the game, and when we exclude midfielder John Doyle's contribution of 1-2 as well, we see that the forwards only scored five points between the original starters -- and three of them were taken off.

Indeed, only one forward managed to score for Kildare in the final 28 minutes of the game.

But these are mere statistics and not terribly important in the overall context of this game.

The outstanding aspect of the contest, and the main reason for Kildare's victory was the barnstorming performance of their wing half-back Emmet Bolton from Eadestown, who charged up from his position in the final quarter to rattle home two points and a brilliant goal to end Meath's hopes for another year.

Every county needs heroes when the big games are there to be won and lost and certainly Bolton filled that role in marvellous style.

This was a very important victory for Kildare and Kieran McGeeney because it had to be dug out as opposed to the spectacular performance against Laois a week earlier.

deficiencies

Meath did make life very hard for them and but for deficiencies in the Royals' defence, Kildare's scoring rate would have been even more miserly.

But when the chips were down at the very end of the game it was Kildare who showed that crucial commodity -- composure -- that enabled them to weather the storm.

That is something that McGeeney has worked hard on and it was crucial in deciding this result.

Confidence and self-belief was the other important aspect of Kildare's performance and again it is as a result of the manager's hard work in creating the confidence among the Kildare players that is the biggest change during the McGeeney regime.

By contrast these two facets of the game were distinctly lacking in the Meath team, who surprisingly still had the chances to steal the match in the closing stages, during which Kildare were unable to manufacture a score from a time when the teams were level until Bolton came to their rescue.

Meath went through nearly 15 minutes of a scoring famine so can have few complaints, even though their fans were certainly not in a good mood after the game.

connacht championship well below standard

While the dire weather may have excused the poor quality of the Connacht final, it still did not explain the pathetic attempts by many of the players to play even a reasonable level of football.

Crude tackling, particularly by Roscommon defenders, really decided this game thanks the efficiency of Mayo free-taker Cillian O'Connor. Unfortunately for the home county, their usually ace free-taker Donie Shine was not as consistent and missed quite a few frees that proved very costly.

Mayo just had that bit more experience in their ranks as well and the arrival of veterans like Peader Gardiner in the second half was a critical factor also. Overall, it appears the standard in Connacht this year was the poorest for many years and all five counties have a lot of hard work in store if they are to be regarded serious All-Ireland contenders.

The Ulster final was predictable once Eoin Bradley got injured because he was the cause of Derry beating Armagh in the semi-final.

No team could win a major title with Eoin and brother Paddy missing from the forward line, and Donegal must be thanking their lucky stars on that score. But Donegal showed, when they belatedly decided to open up the play in the second half, that they are more than just a team which packs the defence. Everyone will be hoping that they maintain that positive style for the quarter-final.

Because their first-half massed defence style of play is not very attractive and, on the evidence of the second half yesterday, they are well capable of moving their game to a higher level if they play more positively from the start. It is hard to believe that a great football county like Donegal has only won six Ulster titles in over 125 years so nobody can begrudge Jim McGuinness and his team this well-deserved success.

Irish Independent

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