Monday 18 December 2017

McGeeney boosted for road ahead


Kildare's Tomás O'Connor, 14, shoots past the Dublin goalkeeper Shane Supple, corner-back Darren Daly and his own team-mate Seanie Johnston to score the only goal of the game.
Kildare's Tomás O'Connor, 14, shoots past the Dublin goalkeeper Shane Supple, corner-back Darren Daly and his own team-mate Seanie Johnston to score the only goal of the game.
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Some perspective first. At the end of an absorbing contest propelled into extra-time by Kildare's failure to close it out in normal time, Michael Conway, captain for the night, cut a solitary figure as he made his way to collect the Bord na Mona-sponsored Cup in Parnell Park.

Away to one end, the Kildare team were oblivious to the speeches coming out over the PA system as they conducted their warm-down, while on another flank of the ground Kieran McGeeney conducted an interview with a local journalist. Some Kildare supporters did gather beneath Conway as he accepted what was a 10th victory in this pre-season tournament for his county but discretion was generally observed.

A sustained applause rang out around Parnell Park in memory of the late Kevin Heffernan and Dublin manager Jim Gavin admitted 'the Godfather' had been mentioned in pre-match dressing-room words. To honour the night with a win would have been nice but hardly imperative. In Heffo's time as manager there were bigger fish to fry (Dublin didn't win an O'Byrne Cup between 1974 and 1985), just as there are now.

"We mentioned inside before the game the virtues and what Kevin brought to the game of football. He was a visionary, a strategist and those guys stand on his shoulders. Certainly I, and the guys there, wouldn't be where we are in Dublin GAA without the vision of Kevin Heffernan," he acknowledged.

"But in the context of the game, it's a pre-season tournament. There is a long road ahead. I've always said to the guys I'll be honest with them and give them as much opportunity as possible to stake a claim, so for that purpose it was an excellent opportunity for them and for me."

Still there will be some private warmth for Kildare at a second successive O'Byrne Cup victory over Dublin. In McGeeney's time the teams have never met in league football and only twice in the championship so every battle between them tends to count.

Of course the roll call of Dublin absentees adds the greatest perspective.

But it's only when you see the breadth of established and potential talent in circulation around Dublin football these days that you realise just what an onerous task it actually is for Gavin and his team over the next few years. How do you refine numbers down to 26 from what he has at his disposal and how do you distil them further into a starting 15?

The process, Gavin revealed, immediately got under way.

The liberal use of so many of Dessie Farrell's 2011/2012 minor teams in this match – Davy Byrne, Jack McCaffrey, Paul Mannion and Emmet O Conghaile started while Cormac Costello, Eric Lowndes, Shane Carty came on – underlined how swift the changing of the guard under Gavin may well be.

McCaffrey already looks a seasoned No 7, O Conghaile showed glimpses of power in possession while Costello swooped in for two points and an assist for Michael Darragh Macauley, minutes after replacing Kevin McManamon.

But maybe even more impressive was the contribution of a few new Kildare players on the night.

In his first match at senior level, Athy's Niall Kelly, just out of minor football, was a revelation with the accuracy of his passes and his composure on the ball at half-forward, while Paddy Brophy inside him finished with three points. Daniel Flynn switched to midfield in the first half and revelled in the role, barely stopping to draw breath even deep into extra-time.

Could these young players who are pushing through provide the impetus required for the next step?

"We've played 11 or 12 that weren't there last year and it's good to see all of them doing pretty well," said McGeeney.

"It's good preparation that way but it's then picking the right team to be able to play the All-Ireland champions next Saturday. Somebody was telling me since we came in that we have looked at well over 100 players between trials and stuff."

For the 5,000 or so who attended, it was a richly entertaining game, swinging a few different directions until eventually Tomas O'Connor grabbed hold of it early in the second half of extra-time and didn't let go, hitting an unanswered 1-2 to kill it off.

Scoring hasn't been a feature of his game as a full-forward so his return represents a development for Kildare. Outside him Seanie Johnston spurned a number of opportunities to win the game at the end of normal time. Would it have been better though to start him and build on the momentum of the previous week?

On such a fragile, sticky surface some of the skills were to be commended, especially the act of blocking a kick, which happened so often. Two of Johnny Doyle's points, one involving a sublime dummy and sliced kick in the 25th minute, were top-drawer, while Eoghan O'Flaherty also chipped in with a long-range effort to reel in Dublin's early 0-5 to 0-2 lead.

At the other end Bernard Brogan was policed impressively by Ollie Lyons but Paddy Andrews had more freedom at centre-forward and it was one of his better Dublin games.

It was 0-14 each at the end of normal time but through Paul Hudson, Pat Burke and Hudson again from a free, Dublin looked to have made the winning surge in the first period of extra-time until O'Connor's intervention, the goal coming from his dispossession of Declan O'Mahony.


It ended fractiously with Dublin players reacting to Johnston's cynical jersey pull on Darren Daly and Denis Bastick picking up a straight red card for an altercation with Brophy.

Gavin admitted disappointment with Bastick but felt the referee, Eddie Kinsella, played a big part in the build-up.

"There were two of them at it. I suppose the cynical part of the game was kicking in at that stage and frustration got the better of Denis. But there was a blatant foul on one of our guys, which was happening quite regularly, and the referee wasn't doing anything about it. But I'm sure his assessor will look at that.

"Denis knows my feelings and the players know my feelings in terms of that indiscipline and certainly I don't tolerate it."

Scorers – Kildare: J Doyle 0-5 (2f), T O'Connor 1-2, P Brophy 0-3, N Kelly 0-2, E Bolton, H McGrillen, E O'Flaherty, P O'Neill 0-1 each. Dublin: P Mannion 0-4 (2f), P Andrews, P Hudson (f), MD Macauley, C Costello 0-2 each, P Quinn, P Burke, B Brogan (f), S Carty, K McManamon 0-1 each.

Kildare – S Connolly; O Lyons, P Kelly, H McGrillen; E O Flaherty, M Foley, E Bolton; G White, R Kelly; C McNally, N Kelly, B Flanagan; J Doyle, D Flynn, P Brophy. Subs: T O'Connor for R Kelly (h-t), J Byrne for Flanagan (48), S Johnston for McNally (52), M Conway for O'Flaherty (62), P O'Neill for White (67). Extra-time subs: E Doyle for Bolton (77), R Sweeney for N Kelly (78).

Dublin – S Supple; D Byrne, T Brady, D Nelson; C Guckian, D Daly, J McCaffrey; MD Macauley, D Bastick; E Ó Conghaile, P Andrews, P Quinn; P Mannion, K McManamon, B Brogan. Subs: C Costello for McManamon (42), S Carty for Quinn (43), D O'Mahony for Bastick (44), P Hudson for Mannion (57), P Burke for Brogan (64). Extra-time subs: Bastick for Macauley, Quinn for O Conghaile, E Lowdnes for Guckian (all beginning of e-t), G Sweeney for Quinn (h-t in e-t), Macauley for O'Mahony (85), R McCarthy for Hudson (88).

Ref – E Kinsella (Laois).

Irish Independent

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