Poor skill execution frustrates Lilies boss
Kildare 0-13 Offaly 0-11
A season is never designed, much less defined, by what happens in early January but it's still encouraging for counties if performances generate a positive mindset.
To that extent, the O'Byrne Cup hasn't been a success for Kildare or Offaly, neither of whom reached the semi-final from a group which was topped by Louth, who are in Division 4 this year.
Ironically, Louth lost to Offaly in the first round but recovered to beat both Kildare and DIT, earning them a semi-final date with Meath.
Those details won't count for much once the Allianz League lifts off at the end of the month, although the degree to which the various counties will be prepared for the opening series can hinge on how the previous four weeks have gone.
A week ago, Offaly were in buoyant mood after an away win over Louth but most of that good work was undone by a sloppy display against DIT on Wednesday night. They played better yesterday but still came up short against a Kildare side that functioned well at times, while also wandering deep into moderate territory.
New manager Cian O'Neill called it straight after a win which wasn't enough to earn a semi-final slot because of the defeat by Louth.
"It's good to get a win but it's all about performance at this time of year, and I certainly would not be happy with our performance today.
"Conditions might be used as an excuse but they can't be blamed totally for the poor execution of skills at certain times. That was a big area of disappointment for me. We had worked quite a lot on that in training but it wasn't good today. There comes a time when lads need to reflect on their own performance and the team performance, and forget about the fact that we won," said O'Neill.
He will be naming his League panel this week, starting the next phase of the countdown to the opening Division 3 game away to Westmeath in Mullingar on January 31.
Offaly begin their Division 3 campaign at home to Longford on the same day, prior to playing Kildare in Newbridge a week later.
Those two games will be crucial in establishing whether Kildare and Offaly can place themselves among the serious promotion contenders. Having dropped from Division 2 last season, Kildare are regarded as more likely promotion candidates than Offaly (they have come up from Division 4) but O'Neill knows that margins will be very tight right across the group.
So too does Offaly boss Pat Flanagan, who was left frustrated by two defeats in four days.
"We're losing games we should be winning. We should have beaten DIT the other night but we didn't.
"I felt we should have won today's game too but we didn't. It's all about getting into the right frame of mind to get across the line when the chance is there," he said.
Offaly had quite a few chances to apply real pressure on Kildare and while they came close on a few occasions, they couldn't see it through.
A pointed free by Offaly sub Sean Doyle in the 65th minute cut the margin to a point but that was as good as it got and Kildare ensured victory when Seamus Hanafin kicked a late point.
Offaly did well early on, running into a two point lead after 11 minutes but by half-time Kildare were three ahead, 0-8 to 0-5. Offaly had missed quite a few chances, including two frees, which Shane Dooley kicked wide.
The jury remains out on whether he can successfully combine inter-county hurling and football careers. For while he had some good moments yesterday, there were also times when he looked like he needed a whole lot more football, a target not easily attained because of his hurling commitments.
Offaly drew level in the 44th minute before Kildare kicked three unanswered points, which ultimately won the game.
O'Neill's commitment to have Kildare play a game where kick-passing takes precedence over hand-passing was again in evidence, even if it didn't always quite work out as planned.
Hence, his reference to poor skill execution but there was still quite a lot to admire about Kildare's attempts to use long, angled deliveries as a means of taking attacks into the scoring zone.
Once the accuracy levels rise, it will be very interesting to see how that approach works.
"There's a time to kick and there's a time to play the ball with the hand. The biggest challenge at the moment is in getting the decision-making right," said O'Neill.
He believes that Kildare's late return to training (December 8), brought about by being in the All-Ireland quarter-final, has left them a few weeks behind some teams who were back earlier but expects to make up the leeway in the coming weeks.
"We showed, today, glimpses of what we can do but didn't execute as well as we wanted," he said.
Flanagan could see some positives too. "We have unearthed a few players who will make a difference for us. We set out to give everyone a fair chance and we have done that. Now we need to do more work in the next few weeks," he said.
Yesterday's attendance was 1,927.
Scorers - Kildare: R Cahill 0-5 (4f), E O'Connor 0-3 (1f, 1 '45), C McNally 0-2, A Tyrrell (f) M Byrne, S Hannafin 0-1 each. Offaly: J Maher (1f), J Evans 0-3 each, S Dooley (f), S Nally, S Moriarty, R McNamee, S Doyle (f) 0-1 each.
Kildare- S Connolly; O Lyons, C Fitzpatrick, L Healy; M O'Flaherty, J Byrne, C O Donoghue; Daniel Flynn, Daryl Flynn; M Byrne, E O'Connor, A Tyrrell; C McNally, P O'Neill, R Cahill. Subs: S Hannafin for O'Neill (45), E Heavey for Tyrrell (47), J Eaton for Cahill (50), D White for Daryl Flynn (54), M Conway for O'Connor (56), G Farrell for Daniel Flynn (63).
Offaly - A Mulhall; D Brady, E Rigney, S Pender; C Byrne, J O'Connor, A Mahon; C McNamee, J Gethings; S Moriarty, S Nally, J Evans; J Maher, S Dooley, B Allen. Subs: B Darby for Brady (17), A Sullivan for Evans (48), R McNamee for Nally (50), J Moloney for Gethings (53), S Doyle for Allen (59), O Cusack for Mahon (62), P Sullivan for Dooley (65).
Ref - P Maguire (Longford)