Sunday 25 February 2018

Stability guiding Kildare's path

Kildare manager Cian O'Neill. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Kildare manager Cian O'Neill. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When Kildare met Meath in their opening Allianz Division 2 league match in Navan at the beginning of February their team selection was quite an article of faith from management.

By the beginning of the second half in their previous game against what was loosely considered a third-string Dublin team two weeks earlier in Newbridge, 14 of the same 15 were on the field. Only Kevin Feely was missing, having been displaced by Tommy Moolick at the interval.

They were guarding a 2-4 to 0-8 lead at the time and, despite conceding the last four points in the opening half, there was nothing to suggest that they wouldn't go through the gears and put sufficient distance between themselves and Dublin.

They lost by two points however, leaving manager Cian O'Neill to vent his "disgust" afterwards.

But that sentiment didn't influence the team sheet the next day. The knee-jerk reaction to such a defeat might have prompted wide-scale change in many other counties, but the Moorefield clubman and his new selectors, Ronan Sweeney and Enda Murphy, held their nerve in many respects by returning them for the Navan game almost en masse.

It, quite probably, reflected a clear vision of the type of team they wanted and what personnel they felt could best achieve it. Their faith has been justified so far. Through league and the early stage of championship no other team has been more settled.

Strip out the away game to Galway in the last regulation round of the league when they were already assured of promotion and ran in most of the rest of the squad and selection, otherwise, has had an automatic feel to it.

In those eight games (six regulation league, Division 2 league final against Galway and Leinster quarter-final against Laois), only once has there been a change in the first 12 when Paul Cribbin dropped out for the trip to Derry and was replaced by Peter Kelly.

The only variables have largely been in the full-forward line where injuries to Neil and Daniel Flynn and Ben McCormack have forced change.

Daniel Flynn missed the league final but was back for the Laois game, Neil Flynn should return to the bench for tomorrow evening after a hamstring injury while McCormack is recovering from a foot injury that required recent surgery.

In the void Cathal McNally, Chris Healy, Conor Hartley, David Slattery and Fionn Dowling have stepped up in the two floating positions but, if fit, it's hard to imagine that O'Neill and his selectors would deviate from selecting the Flynn-Flynn-McCormack axis en bloc.

Into the mix now, however, is Paddy Brophy who will have more than three weeks behind him with the squad since his return from Australia. That they found such a pattern of consistency so quickly was helped by early results against Meath and Cork but was surprising given the upheaval the squad experienced since last season.

Between retirements,withdrawals and personnel change brought about by a new management team, 16 players involved in league or championship didn't resurface.

Eight had featured in championship - Ciarán Fitzpatrick, Ryan Houlihan, Eoghan and Morgan O'Flaherty, Pádraig O'Neill, Alan Smith, Adam Tyrrell and Kevin Murnaghan, and five of those in the last game against Mayo alone.

Despite such an exodus, the current team has an experienced feel to it. Only Slattery was a debutant the last day, the rest have been bedded down for the last number of years and were integrated towards the end of Kieran McGeeney's time in charge and during Jason Ryan's two-year tenancy.

Seven starters have a direct link to the 2013 Leinster U-21-winning team, Brophy and Dowling are also of that vintage while Feely would have been involved if it wasn't for his professional soccer career. That puts the core of the team in the 24-25 age bracket.

Since his return, Feely has given a range of options from midfield to full-forward. But with Tommy Moolick, a complementary midfield partnership has been established that is certain to test Meath.

With Fergal Conway dropping back to provide extra cover for the half-back line, the channel that Graham Reilly did so much damage through against Louth will be somewhat more congested.

The latest Leinster semi-final meeting between these counties, their sixth in championship in this decade, can give clarity as to who is best positioned to chase down Dublin in the coming years.

Kildare's stability suggests they have found the right balance.

Irish Independent

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