Monday 14 October 2019

Ryan would be the ideal successor if O'Neill can't save sinking Kildare ship

Kildare manager Cian O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
Kildare manager Cian O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

Following Kildare's emphatic defeat to Carlow, Cian O'Neill had no need for his plethora of performance statistics to establish the root cause for his side's capitulation.

"Out-worked, out-fought, out-played," was his post-match assessment.

For a man who spent the whole spring bemoaning misfortune in the league, it was refreshingly honest.

O'Neill knew the self-pity card wasn't going to cut it this time around. Yet he could still find time to roll out his side's "32pc strike-rate from play" statistic, alluding to an obvious obsession with performance metrics.

Kildare's appalling record of 12 defeats in a row didn't happen because of one off day in front of the posts, however.

The root of Kildare's ills goes much further back to something less tangible, something that can't be tracked by a GPS monitor.

In 2014 we defeated Kildare in the last 12 following our Ulster final defeat to Donegal.


I hadn't played against Kildare in a few years, and I remember being taken aback by the size and physique of the Kildare players.

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Too often, however, weak minds dominate their strong bodies.

Losing games they should win has become an all too familiar occurrence.

Glenn Ryan was overlooked in 2015 as the successor to Kieran McGeeney for the Kildare job.

Hindsight is no sight and it would be unfair to dismiss Cian O'Neill's valid credentials for the role in light of subsequent results.

Yet, if there is one thing missing from this Kildare side, it is some of that hardened passion which made Ryan a cult hero in his home county.

Similar to his neighbouring counterpart, Andy McEntee won't find much sympathy across the rich fields of tradition in Meath after their defeat to Longford.

Sunday's result is the latest proof that the success of a generation past is becoming too great a burden for Meath teams of the present.

Having spent much of my working life surrounded by Meath supporters, I have always got a sense that they felt they were only ever one big win away from order being restored.

That belief seemed to carry through the ranks, with no obvious plan in place at county board level to turn things around, or at least an honest recognition of their place in the GAA world's new order.

'Ah, we can always lift it for Dublin' was a common rhetoric that has long since died.

'C'mon the Royals' has been reduced from a roar to a whimper.

At a time when population and resources are being held up as limiting factors to success, Kildare and Meath, two of the best-resourced counties around, continue to frustrate onlookers.

Better-placed than anyone else to disrupt Dublin's stranglehold in an ailing province, they continue to disappoint.

Kildare's brave effort in last year's Leinster final is looking more like an apparition with each passing defeat.

Successive final defeats in 2012 and 2013 were the last time you could say Meath were any way competitive against the provincial kingpins.

Their 16-point thrashing in 2015 was a particular low point in the years since.

The modern game of defensive set-ups and hand-passing has never suited counties like Kildare or Meath.

At their best, both counties like to play high-paced, expansive football.

You might note that I have resisted using the word 'shock' or 'unexpected' in relation to the Kildare and Meath results at the weekend. Such ignominy has become all too familiar in both counties over the years to be counted as such.

Conforming to the will of others has left their supporters shorn of belief, and their players with a blanket defence under which it has been all too easy to hide. Sunday was another case in point.

If the weekend results were bad enough for Kildare and Meath, yesterday's qualifier draw could spell a swift end to what have already been underwhelming seasons.

Derry will have taken courage from a performance against Donegal well above their Division 4 credentials and will fancy turning their season around against a win-less Kildare in Celtic Park.

Tyrone will travel to Navan desperate to reset their trajectory on a course Meath can claim no rights to aspire towards.

Defeat to Derry will surely move one eye closer towards O'Neill's successor.

To that end the Kildare faithful will be hoping Ryan wasn't too put out when overlooked the last time.

Meath, on the other hand, as only Meath can do, will try and recall past glories over Tyrone as a source of motivation to cause an upset.

History has been of little help to Meath of late, and I don't expect that to change against Tyrone in a few weeks' time.

These are desperate times for Kildare and Meath. Dublin's nearest rivals have never looked so far away.

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