Wednesday 29 January 2020

McGeeney needs trophy success

Cliona Foley

EVER since they arrived back tanned and toned last Sunday from what you can only imagine was a gruelling 10-day training camp in Portugal, there has been a subliminal message coming from Kildare.

Sure, manager Kieran McGeeney and right-hand man Niall Carew have said all the right things about wanting to beat Tyrone in tomorrow's Division 2 final, but they've also been equivocating.

"To win silverware in the summer really, that's the big goal," McGeeney said.

"It will be very good for our confidence if we beat Tyrone, but our focus is on Offaly," Carew ventured.

Who are they trying to kid?

They can dodge the issue as much as they like, but tomorrow's game at Croke Park is a pivotal tie for the Lilywhites in more ways than one.

Their decent spring form is surely no coincidence. Since McGeeney's arrival in 2008, the league has not been a priority. They won a single game in 2008 (albeit in Division 1) and have been wallowing in Division 2 since, even if unlucky not to escape last year.

But ever since they turned their season around with that third-round victory over Meath in Navan, Kildare made a concerted effort to get out of the second tier, even if they only did it thanks to Johnny Doyle's equalising injury-time penalty against Galway in their final game.

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If promotion was their aim alone then that has been achieved, and they racked up 9-105 en route, laying to rest some other ghosts about their scoring rate. But now they're faced with another challenge that they should be meeting if they hope to be in the mix again this summer.

Reaching the last eight of the All-Ireland in every year of McGeeney's reign justifies ranking Kildare as one of the 'top five' teams in the country.

You could also argue they'd have got even further if they hadn't suffered more traumatic injuries and dodgy refereeing decisions than a marathon weekend of WWE Smackdown.

But the fact remains that, after four and a half years of unquestionable effort and admirable dedication, this Kildare team still haven't won anything.

And, most importantly, they still haven't beaten any of the game's recent powerbrokers in a big pressure game in Croke Park -- where Meath and Derry have been their most high-profile scalps.

The past four years have included two painful losses to Dublin. Just a goal separated them in the 2009 Leinster final and just a point in last year's provincial semi-final, but the Dubs won both games with just 14 men.

Back in 2008, Kildare were nowhere as close but noticeably got two penalties and scored only one when losing an All-Ireland quarter-final to Cork.

Down did for them in the 2010 All-Ireland semis, again by just two points in a game that featured Benny Coulter's 'square ball' goal. And in last year's quarter-finals, after having a legitimate goal disallowed, Kevin Cassidy's point killed them off in extra-time, when the toll of Kildare's back-door odyssey was reckoned to have contributed to their inability to crawl across the line.

In fairness, McGeeney and the players have rarely used that excuse and the 'victim card' that their supporters often play is anathema to them, but it's high time they stopped leaving such things to chance. They have lost too many 'epic' games at HQ and need to start giving themselves the sort of platforms that don't depend on the vagaries/eyesight of men with whistles or white coats.

Beating Tyrone tomorrow would have a significance that they cannot ignore, not just because they lost this year's opening round to them in Croker.

In 2009, they also had the Red Hands on the run in an All-Ireland quarter-final. An early Ronan Sweeney goal and John Doyle's free-taking had them four points up at half-time (1-7 to 0-6), but Tyrone subsequently out-scored them 0-10 to 0-4 and won by two.

Kildare may argue they've nothing to lose tomorrow, and that the summer is all that matters, but winning a bit of silver, no matter what its lustre, adds hugely to the mental resilience and reputation of any team.

And victory over Tyrone -- a county who embodied indefatigable resilience throughout the noughties and have managed to rebuild themselves in jig time -- in a big game at HQ would arguably be even more valuable than a trophy at this time.

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