Tuesday 25 October 2016

Coman Goggins: Lillies have circled the wagons in time to halt Laois run

Jason Ryan
Jason Ryan

ON paper, the record doesn't read too badly. Since 2008 they have contested one All-Ireland semi-final, five All-Ireland quarter-finals and over the last four years have reached consecutive Leinster semi-finals.

Yet as Kildare get set for their championship opener in Tullamore's O'Connor Park this Saturday evening, with an evens spread, the bookies have probably got it right as to the pressure facing the Lilywhites.

Consecutive relegations, which has seen them amass the miserly total of only eight league points from a possible 28 over the last two seasons, has resulted in Kildare facing into Division Three football next year, only a few years on from lifting the Division Two crown under the guidance of then manager Kieran McGeeney.

A decent run through the qualifiers last year that only ended following an extra-time defeat to Monaghan in the final round, hinted that relegation from Division One may only have been a temporary blip. But with only two league wins to their name this spring, one of which came against their opponents this weekend, Laois (other over Cavan), it's clear there are problems.

A scan through the team that lost their concluding league game to Galway arguably identifies their biggest problem or weakness at the moment, and that's the natural attrition that occurs as Father Time catches up on inter-county careers.

The absence of some of the key players who formed the spine of the team on their run to the All-Ireland semi-final in 2010 and that league title in 2012, has left a gap that manager Jason Ryan is finding difficult to plug.

The biggest of these names is undoubtedly Johnny Doyle, whose leadership, drive and passion, was so often the catalyst for so much of the good associated with Kildare football. Although equally as critical to the cause was his scoring prowess, where despite never reaching an All-Ireland final, he still managed to top score in the championships in both 2008 (2-26) and 2010 (1-49).

But while the loss of this type of experienced player is a significant part of their recent problems, it ironically also forms part of the solution.

Provincial success at minor and U21 level has provided the opportunity for a number of Kildare's young stars to feed into the Senior set-up, and while it is clearly taking time to get the blend right, the bigger problem would be to have had these retirements without the emerging talent coming on stream.


The difficulty for manager Ryan, who proved himself as a highly capable manager with Wexford prior to taking on the Kildare role, is that in the modern era of Gaelic football, a little bit like Premier League soccer, the desire for success means that a run of poor results suddenly piles on the pressure, and patience can wane especially when supporters have grown used to being competitive over the years.

If anyone has an understanding of this predicament and can sympathise with Ryan, it is his opposite number in the Laois hot seat, Tomas ó Flatharta.

Appointed Galway senior football manager in October 2010, the Kerry native was relieved of his post after less than a year following relegation to Division Two, and championship losses to Mayo and Meath.

Like Ryan, O Flatharta inherited a side that while still consisting of the likes of Pádraic Joyce was, similar to Kildare, about to hit, if not already in the throes, of a transition period.

In a statement issued by ó Flatharta shortly after been relived of his post he mentioned about how he was focusing on the development of younger players and stating how "ten of this year's under-21 team have been integrated into the senior panel. The promise is there, the under-21s won the All-Ireland title, the minors are in the All-Ireland semi-final and St Jarlath's reached the All Ireland Colleges Final. Galway will again become a force in the GAA".

A second U21 title in 2013 and Corofin's All-Ireland club success earlier this year offers some vindication, and perhaps indicates that the winds of change may be coming. But it is also clear that it takes time to bed emerging talent into a senior team and based on the Tribesmen's recent championship endeavors, even more time for that group to challenge for honours.


Given the sentiment from some Kildare supporters following their poor league campaign, it is debatable whether Ryan has much more time to facilitate this changing of the guard, and recognising that his troops may be on the ropes, a developing Laois will be more than happy to deliver the knockout blow and secure a first semi-final since 2009 and a date with Dubs.

However, the stoney silence from the Lilywhite camp since their relegation lends me to believe that Ryan has managed to circle the wagons and galvanise his squad, something that may well give Kildare the edge as the combination of young and old clicks into place and restores some much needed pride to the jersey.


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