‘Monkey off the back’ but Lilies still have issues in defence – Peter McConnon

Kildare forward Jack Robinson. Photo: Tyler Miller/Sportsfile

Frank Roche

For any Kildare diehards who braved the Limerick downpours and the nerve-shredding chaos of their second half on Sunday, the first emotion was one of relief.

A priceless victory. Division 2 safety. And even the shock-horror delight of watching their team find the net – not once but three times.

In the cold light of day comes another fresh concern: if Glenn Ryan’s team keep offering up goal chances as they did against the worst team in Division 2, then how can they hope to cope with, say, Dublin in a potential Leinster semi-final at the end of April?

The good news? They’re not playing the Dubs this Sunday.

“There’s a different mindset going into the Meath match already,” says Peter McConnon, the former Kildare U-21 manager who was on co-commentary duties for Kfm at the Gaelic Grounds.

“When a team is on a run like Kildare have been on, it’s one step at a time to try and get off that slippery slope.

“The first step was getting the win in Limerick to retain Division 2 status. Now that monkey is off the back, you can approach the Meath match with a little bit more sense of confidence that we are able to score goals and we are able to get a win.

“You’re not playing a Dublin or a Derry; you’re playing Meath who are struggling themselves and have been held to a draw by Limerick.

“The occasion of the last game in St Conleth’s Park before the bulldozers come in has to count for something. I did say, wrapping up on the radio (on Sunday), I would appeal to everybody in Kildare that has GAA running through their veins to turn out and support the team in Newbridge.

“Let’s forget about what’s happened. We are now staying in Division 2. And while that mightn’t have been the goal we had at the beginning of the year, it turned into a reality a number of weeks ago. It was a fight for survival.

“That survival has been achieved, so now the next step is get a win against Meath. Look, the possibility is that the loser of the Kildare/Meath match can be playing Tailteann Cup football. The winner, I’d say, is likely going to be safe.”

McConnon was happy to see Kildare banish their green flag demons – after eight goalless league outings dating back 13 months or, if you prefer, six consecutive blanks since Jimmy Hyland’s Leinster final consolation last May. Like buses they came in threes, via Kevin Flynn, Jack Robinson and a cheeky back-heeler from Darragh Kirwan.

On the flip side, a defence that has now leaked nine goals in six games showed some alarming looseness after the break. It led to two goals from James Naughton and Cillian Fahy; it could have been four if not more. Peter Nash was denied by a goal-line block from Kevin O’Callaghan (backed up by Mick O’Grady); a Nash snapshot drew a save from Mark Donnellan; while Naughton’s speculative effort looped wide of the far post.

McConnon’s take? “If you’re going with a defensive set-up, there’s no point in everybody being back in defence unless everybody is doing the job . . . and your job is not just to mark space,” he surmises.

“There’s a responsibility, if I’m playing in a 14-man defence because the opposition are attacking and I’ve got No 12 or 13 on my back, my job is still to turn back the guy that comes to me.

“We have shipped a few goals that have been messy, where there are gaps created because we seem to just possibly lose runners.

“The (Limerick) goals were generally poor defending from high, speculative kicks . . . somebody has to be commanding. The high ball is a back’s ball, as far as I’m concerned.

“But I’d be very hopeful. I think there’s quality in that team that is probably not being reflected in the results and the play we’ve seen.

“Is that a management problem? You couldn’t get a prouder bunch of fantastic Kildare men and footballers, no better at their job. So they’re going to be hurting as much as anybody, looking at the way things have panned out. But Sunday was a huge pressure valve release, and a monkey off the back.”