Stakes rise for Ryan
Beleaguered Kildare boss desperate for redemption in qualifiers as Lilies make nervous derby trip to Tullamore
As Jason Ryan pondered the indecent haste between last week's public execution and what many Kildare folk fear might be the final swish of the guillotine in Tullamore today, he could only smile wanly.
"Hopefully the rest of the guys are good to go for Saturday," he told us, before adding with the weakest of conviction, "Physically anyway! We'll see how everyone is mentally. We'll check on that in a few days."
Well, by the time Ryan had gotten time to check, two of his men had jumped overboard - Athy duo Darroch Mulhall and Davy Hyland.
If leaking players from your county panel reflects poorly on those in charge of it, then Ryan's grip on his now two-year occupancy of the senior management role is at its most tenuous.
Nobody expected anything else but for Kildare to plummet in their attempts to scale Mount Leinster last weekend; the worry now is how precipitous that descent may ultimately become as the prospect of giving a summer kiss of life to the perennially hapless Offaly footballers looms menacingly.
Kildare, whose league status marks them on a level with an Offaly side upon whom they would have peered with disdain just a short few years ago, embark upon a journey today which will be completed in minutes but which could have ramifications for months.
"It's not a savage new experience for Kildare," says Ryan.
But it could yet become precisely that; their only hope possibly resting on Offaly's inability to cope when the wind blows the slightest element of expectation in their direction.
"The reality is that they are a better team than Offaly," says former stalwart Demot Earley. "Man for man, they are stronger, but it's how they react mentally is the biggest factor.
"And Offaly have been looking at this tie for a few weeks, they will have been preparing for this and angling for an upset. So Kildare need to be ready for this, park the Dublin defeat and put all their focus on Offaly. Otherwise they could get caught."
Another erstwhile colleague Glenn Ryan feels that this is a red-letter day for a Kildare side in what is a local derby freighted with even more edge than that provided by the welter of players on either side who schooled together in Edenderry.
Despite the brevity of the journey that will take them across the border, the double Leinster title winner of 1998 and 2000 insists his county must bridge the substantial distance between what was acceptable in terms of commitment last Sunday and what is needed to eke out some more oxygen from this championship summer.
"Kildare have to see this as an opportunity to get back on the wagon," he says. "They can prove to themselves, nobody else, that all the work they've been putting in has been worthwhile.
"Kildare can't worry about anyone else, bar themselves. The opposition doesn't matter, from a Kildare perspective it's about what Kildare team will show up.
"The whole desire to get something out of the game, a huge passion for players to prove to each other what they are capable of doing.
"At this stage, it's about getting back to the basics and the idea of why you're playing for your county, what you're hoping to achieve and how you're hoping to represent the people you do represent.
"Kildare supports will be looking to what the players produce from an effort, a desire and a respect point of view. I don't know if that was missing against Dublin but we shall expect to see more of it the next day."
He agrees with Earley - "disappointed as a Kildare man" - that the defection of the Athy duo does not reflect well.
"It's disappointing any time that a lot of energy and expense is put into any footballer who chooses to desert that kind of cause. There's no point in saying anything else, it is disappointing."
Earley's claim that his county are the better team may be correct on paper - albeit they are merely two-point favourites - but coming down the stretch, if Kildare haven't pushed on and with the purportedly still wounded Niall McNamee waiting in the wings, these Lilies could wither.
"Regardless of the history," says manager Ryan, whose side have won the last three championship games against Offaly, last losing in 2006, "this is a game that Pat Flanagan will look at and feel we're wounded.
"And instead of us looking for a fight, they'll be hoping we'll be wounded and won't perform."
Ryan's reign is on borrowed time; re-discovering Kildare's fondness for the long and winding qualifying route - win today and their next game is also eminently winnable - may begin the process of resuscitating his side's fortunes.
Otherwise, and with a slew of native contenders waiting in the wings, the former Wexford boss could soon find himself running out of road.