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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Bloomsday gives hope to the Lilies

leinster sfc quarter-f replay

JASON RYAN may be an adopted 'Lilywhite' but he has got to know the Kildare psyche pretty well these past two-and-a-half years, as selector and then manager.

"Kildare," he mused, "you're the best in the world or the worst in the world. That's just the way it is. You gotta be secure in your belief of what we as a group are doing. That's the most important thing."

For much of this year, they've been "the worst" - a team of supposed challengers heading for the unfathomable depths of Division Three. For the second half of Saturday night's - how do we describe it? - surreal replay in O'Connor Park, they were "the best" they have been all season.

What transpired was a transformation belonging more to Ripley's Believe It Or Not than the Leinster senior football championship. Laois had narrowly shaded a fascinating first half to lead by 0-9 to 0-8. They lost the second half by 3-10 to 1-2, the one-way traffic theme firmly established by the lethal leakage of 2-3 during the first three minutes and 15 seconds.

COLLAPSING

The only thing that made the script faintly plausible? This is Laois who, historically, have a tendency for collapsing days like this.

Still, Saturday night was primarily about the restoration of Kildare morale after a difficult first 18 months under Ryan's watch. They needed the previous week's deadlock to help stem the spring bleeding. This replay in Tullamore should help them even more: they will require every morsel of self-belief and momentum to prepare now for the ultimate test of their provincial mettle, a Leinster semi-final against Dublin on June 28.

"It was important to get a win. Whether it was back to Croke Park or wherever ... it was about getting the win," the manager reiterated.

"We played Laois in the league and beat them already - it's not as if we did something amazing. We've beaten a team that we beat already this year. We've a lot of football that we want to play yet."

The 'best in the world' brigade will now be shouting from the rooftops about taking out the Dubs; the pessimists, notwithstanding this 13-point demolition, will still secretly fear the worst.

BLITZKRIEG

It's Ryan's daunting responsibility to construct a coherent game-plan that doesn't play into Jim Gavin's hands. Meanwhile, his players must bring the same ruthless streak that underpinned their blitzkrieg start to the second half (an unanswered 2-5 in the first eight minutes) rather than the subsequent sloppiness that saw their wide count eventually rise to 16.

"The situation that we've been in since the Westmeath game (at the start of March), we can't look further ahead than the next 70 minutes. All we've been thinking about is Laois," Ryan pointed out.

"We'll take a few claps on the back and then get thinking about Dublin."

The Waterford man knows what to expect.

"Dublin are the most recognised, well-known team in the country. They get the most coverage in every way, shape or form. They get the most of this, the most of that - we're all pretty aware of what they bring to the table. It's not going to be any big surprise," he said.

Can Kildare close the gap?

"Longford are a Division Three team (next season), we're a Division Three team - and we saw what Dublin did to a Division Three team a few weeks ago. We'll see what happens."

That story is for another day. In the meantime, some reflection on where it belatedly came so right on Saturday night.

For the first quarter of this sequel, Kildare were in big trouble almost everywhere bar the scoreboard. They trailed by a point when Ross Munnelly's lack of conviction resulted in a crucial 11th minute penalty save by Mark Donnellan. They were still a point adrift, two minutes later, when Brendan Quigley skewed another glorious goal chance wide.

The match had started in pretty orthodox man-for-man fashion, but at least half of the Kildare defence initially struggled to contain their men. Donie Kingston was consistently winning ball ahead of Mick O'Grady and making things happen, while Niall Donoher (on Emmet Bolton) and the excellent Evan O'Carroll (on Kevin Murnaghan) were making huge inroads down either wing, each tallying three points from play by the midpoint.

Still, as the half progressed and Gary White frequently floated back as an auxiliary defender, Kildare found a far less porous shape. They also used their advantages of pace and athleticism at the other end, resulting in a necklace of points that augured well for the second half.

GAFFE

Not that anyone foresaw what came next. Towards the end of an elongated break, Kildare could be spied warming up on the grass beyond the far terrace. They duly emerged to hit the ground running via a Cathal McNally point inside 20 seconds; an Eamonn Callaghan goal (following a short kickout gaffe intercepted by Alan Smith) after 45 seconds; two more quickfire points followed by McNally's fisted goal after 195 seconds ... they were suddenly eight up and not even Kingston's 47th minute goal suggested the start of some miracle comeback. Even less so after Eoghan O'Flaherty goaled on the rebound, five minutes later.

Donnellan, Paul Cribbin, O'Flaherty, McNally and Fogarty all excelled for the winners. But what of the shellshocked losers?

"I thought we played great football in the first half, against the wind; we got some great scores and we had a lot of energy," Tomás Ó Flatharta reflected. "Then the second half - just the first ten minutes or so - they blitzed us."

They have no time for morose post-mortems either.

"It'll be a test of our character," Ó Flatharta admitted. "It's really important we turn this around fairly quickly and get back on the horse. We have a game next weekend. It's against Antrim, it's a home venue for us and we just have to start off from there again."

SCORERS - Kildare: E O'Flaherty 1-4 (0-2f), C McNally 1-2, E Callaghan 1-1, P Fogarty 0-4, P Cribbin 0-2, O Lyons, K Murnaghan, G White, P O'Neill, N Kelly 0-1 each. Laois: D Kingston 1-2 (0-2f), E O'Carroll 0-5 (1f, 1 '45'), N Donoher 0-3, T Shiel 0-1.

KILDARE: M Donnellan 8; C Fitzpatrick 7, M O'Grady 6, O Lyons 8; K Murnaghan 5, F Conway 6, E Bolton 6; G White 7, P Cribbin 8; P O'Neill 7, E O'Flaherty 8, C McNally 8; E Callaghan 7, P Fogarty 8, A Smith 6. Subs: E Doyle 7 for Conway (ht), T Moolick 7 for McNally (52), D Hyland 6 for Bolton (inj 57), N Kelly 7 for Smith (60), H Lynch for White (65), M Conway for Callaghan (67).

LAOIS: G Brody 6; S Attride 6, M Timmons 5, R Kehoe 6; D Strong 6, C Begley 5, D O'Connor 6; B Quigley 6, J O'Loughlin 7; N Donoher 7, C Boyle 5, E O'Carroll 8; R Munnelly 5, D Kingston 7, T Shiel 6. Subs: P Kingston 6 for Munnelly (44), J Finn 6 for Shiel (51), G Hanrahan 6 for O'Connor (60), G Dillon for Strong (65), B Sheehan for Donoher (65), E Lowry for Boyle (65).

YELLOW: Kildare 4 (White 10, Cribbin 22, O'Neill 46, Fitzpatrick 48); Laois 1 (Shiel 48)

WIDES: Kildare 16 (7+9); Laois 6 (4+2)

REF: A Nolan (Wicklow). ATT: 6,076. MA

MAN OF MATCH: Eoghan O'Flaherty

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