McCreery expects 'Tribal' warfare as Kildare renew old rivalry
Former Kildare footballer believes strong will only get stronger under new championship system
It's a few weeks ahead of schedule but when former Kildare midfielder Willie McCreery looks round St Conleth's Park tomorrow afternoon he'll see a few familiar faces.
Every year a handful of the 1998 Kildare team head for the Galway Races, which traditionally start at the end of this month. McCreery will be there in his capacity as a racehorse trainer, but knows exactly where his former team-mates will be.
"They stand in the same place every year so you'd know where they'll be," he laughs.
Inevitably, they run into a few of the Galway team that beat them to Sam Maguire in 1998. McCreery usually comes across his former midfield opponent and sparring partner Kevin Walsh in Ballybrit.
And tomorrow Walsh's Galway team come to Newbridge as joint second favourites for the All-Ireland with the bookmakers.
"Galway were good last weekend," McCreery says of their win over Kerry. "At the start of the year I thought they'd be one of the top three teams in Ireland. If we can beat Galway it would be a he step forward. I'm a little bit worried for them but whatever they do they have given us a great year."
The Lilies have rebuilt on the hoof. The defeat to Carlow might have sparked the end but instead it indirectly led to a show of defiance that united the county when they faced down the GAA and had their game with Mayo played in Newbridge instead of Croke Park.
McCreery reckons the team and the county have taken great solace from it. "It was critical they did that, the county board first and then the manager did his talking on Monday and said nothing after that.
"Fair dues to Cian (O'Neill), he didn't harp on about it after that all week either. The players said nothing and did their talking on the pitch. I went racing that day and the people I met commended the players on (the stand) saying fair dues to them.
"They gained a lot of respect in that game against Mayo.
"I thought it was brilliant how they played," McCreery continues. "They did the talking and then they did the walking. The players showed good heart and they were very well supported by Kildare people on the day.
"It was very unfortunate for Mayo, I feel very sorry for them for such a legendary team to have never won an All-Ireland and some of them are getting a bit long in the tooth for it.
"But I thought Kildare did great and it was a great thing for Newbridge."
McCreery insists O'Neill and Kildare have "the bones" of a very good team but the loss to Monaghan last weekend means it's all on the line tomorrow.
"If you look through the league they weren't losing by much. And they have the bones of a very good team there with some excellent players down through the middle who seem to be working very hard for each other and they seem to have clicked.
"I thought they went back to some of their old bad habits last weekend against Monaghan and Monaghan knew who to hit and how hard to hit them. It wasn't so much a step back, we lived with Monaghan and Monaghan are probably one of the top three or four teams in the country."
As they prepare to renew rivalry with the Tribesmen, Kildare aren't helped by the schedule. This will be their fifth weekend of championship action on the bounce and sixth in seven weeks - something he wouldn't ask his horses to do. "You'd probably do it with a bad horse, you couldn't do it with a good horse," he obseves.
For McCreery, who enjoyed his best year in a Kildare jersey under the old straight knockout system, both the back door and the 'Super 8s' format serve only the strong.
"This is what the (fifth) weekend in a row for Kildare? That's not making excuses but it's not fair," he reasons.
"They put on this competition, the Super 8, expect you to play every weekend and go work during the week? It's a joke and not fair on any lad.
"When I was playing county football, I was in work at 6.30 in the morning and didn't finish until 5. That's not fair on the lads are doing it now that they don't get a week's break.
"The good teams win their provincial (title) and they get a break and they are only waiting in the wings, coming in fresh for a game. It's typical of the GAA, all the back door things have never benefited the weaker counties, don't try and tell me they have."
The trainer - who's based at Rathbride on the Curragh - went on to insist that giving teams a second chance only ensures that the traditional counties will come out on top in the end.
"There is never going to be a weaker county winning an All-Ireland again. It makes football better in the stronger counties, they lie in the long grass and don't play every week but the weaker lads are playing every week."
"You won't catch them a second time. It's making more money for the GAA, Kildare have played extra games now instead of one if it was the old way. And that's what it's doing, making money for the GAA.
"The GAA is a great organisation but this is money-hungry crap that isn't making football any better."