Ciaran Whelan: Ross Munnelly primed to lead Laois to victory
WATCHING last Saturday’s Leinster Championship game, I feared for Kildare football after 15 minutes.
Kildare had come into the game under a cloud and a distinct lack of confidence was evident in the opening quarter of the game. A poor league campaign and some squad defections had piled pressure on Jason Ryan’s team and it showed, with Kildare playing with a lack of conviction and belief in their system.
To their credit they came out the other side and when Tommy Moolick kicked the equalising score in injury time it also lifted the dark cloud over Kildare football.
Laois probably should have won the encounter in Tullamore after dominating for long periods but they panicked under pressure in the concluding quarter.
So have Kildare been given a stay of execution for a week or can they build on the character they showed in the last quarter of the drawn game?
In what is probably the most important week in Ryan’s managerial career, it remains to be seen whether he can channel the positives from last week into their performance in the replay. The wounds have only been plastered over temporarily but it is questionable whether they have healed.
Mentally Laois will be hurting this week, hurting badly reflecting on a missed opportunity.
Kildare in contrast will have a pep in their step and their confidence levels should be on the rise. The first question asked after every drawn match is usually around who has the advantage going into the replay, which quite frankly is a load of rubbish.
The score will still be level when the game begins this Saturday. Yes, some teams may rue their missed opportunities in drawn games
but very seldom does it impact on the replay.
Replays are where managers really earn their stripes. Take Kilkenny for example, where Brian Cody’s teams have been the aristocrat of winning replays in recent years.
Both Ryan and Tomás ó Flaharta will have reviewed the video in great detail this week and broken it down where their respective sides can improve. Replays are never the same type of game and what has gone before is in the past. A change of referee for the replay will probably also be welcomed by the Lilywhite supporters this weekend as Cormac Reilly (inset right) made some strange decisions last weekend at crucial stages.
So where will the replay be won and lost tomorrow evening?
Well the midfield battle will be as crucial as it was last Saturday. Brendan Quigley and John O’Loughlin were dominant in this area for long periods, with O’Loughlin also using his powerful running game to pick off a few scores.
Kildare to their credit were shrewd on their own kickout and used the short option to gain primary possession to great effect. I would suspect that Laois will push up on the Kildare kickout forcing Mark Donnellan to go long as much as possible. While Gary White and Paul Cribben were industrious in the middle third, I would suspect Moolick may be utilised from the start to compete in the aerial exchanges with the Laois duo.
When Ryan reviews the video this week there is no doubt that Donie Kingston will be a topic of tactical debate. Kingston, now 24, is maturing into a top-class footballer. He was thrown in at the deep end straight from minor in Laois with high expectations, which added significant pressure to his young shoulders.
Kingston was excellent last week, and while you could argue that he played too deep in the second half, he does have that versatility which allows ó Flaharta to get him into the game in various positions if he is targeted by Kildare. Kingston will remain a key threat to Kildare on the scoreboard, but their other marquee forward Ross Munnelly could play a crucial role.
Munnelly was quiet by his own standards last weekend and with a strong focus on Kingston, he will come into the game nicely under the radar. If Munnelly gets space created by Kingston, it could prove decisive and I anticipate he will have a big say in proceedings.
For Kildare their main challenge is still up front where there is a doubt over the ability to get the required scores from chances they will create. If Laois are more disciplined in defence and do not give up easy frees, Kildare will need to be very economical with their scoring opportunities. Alan Smith is a confidence player who will do some damage if Laois let him grow into the game. However, their collective lack of fire-power in their forward line could prove the difference in the end.
Kildare should come into the game more confident, but Laois look the more competent and they should just get over the line second time round.
A little more conversation a little less action please...
SAME issues, different year!
This Sunday afternoon, we have six championship matches (last Sunday afternoon we had one game) involving some of the biggest teams in the country all overlapping at the same time.
Seriously is it asking too much for the provincial councils to have a conference call at the start of the year and arrange the fixtures in a better manner?
For the promotion of our games, the GAA would be better served by coordinating a more balanced fixture schedule.