Lilies dare to after superb dream shock
Kildare 1-21 v Cork 1-13
TOO many of these Jason Ryan post-match gigs this year have been done with a cloud of dejection having over his head so it was only human to be pleased as he stood with his back to the wall in a more literal sense in the tunnel in Thurles, proudly displaying the big fish he'd just caught.
"You don't doubt. You just work. You're disappointed," he reflected in a fairly didactic summation of Kildare's season, just prior to that point on Saturday evening when they did what they had never even managed under Kieran McGeeney by beating a Division 1 side in the Championship.
"The only people who doubt are maybe the supporters at times and maybe certain elements of the media at times, whether it's national or local.
"But within our group, we know the quality that we have.
"When I first came to Kildare in 2013 to work with Kieran McGeeney, it was something that he pointed out: the ability that there is in Kildare.
"But today is one win. That's it. We need more than that."
If they get any more, they'll name a roundabout or something after him in Newbridge, such is the level of difficulty of their forthcoming task - an All-Ireland quarter-final with Kerry in Croke Park next Sunday.
A Kerry team with a fortnight's break since washing Cork off their shirts and possessing, as they do, the Sam Maguire.
But that won't stop them dreaming now.
In Kildare, we're told, they love their football but it had, evidently, gotten to the point that this team had just made themselves unloved.
Just 3,815 people trickled into Semple Stadium on Saturday evening, beneath Kildare's average home attendance in this year's League.
Clearly then, lots of those who stayed away did so in the expectation that 2015, the Lilies annus horribilis, would round off as such.
The offshoot of such an empty ground was that we could clearly hear Ryan's bellowing from the sideline.
"We're all easily excitable sometimes," he laughed.
"Whether any of the shouting had any structure to it, I don't know. I'll have the psychologist listen to it.
"My brother just spoke to me there and he was saying that some of the language was a bit choice and maybe shouldn't have been used!
"But you can say whatever you want on the sideline but very often, the players can't hear it so it's up to the players themselves to adjust on the pitch.
"So whatever structure was there was developed, organised and executed by the players."
But those same players were well set up, showed commendable patience. And when they got sense of Cork's unease, they went after it like a team who had learned to win on the mean streets of the qualifiers.
Indeed, perhaps the greatest compliment you could pay to Kildare was that, outside of the brilliant Niall Kelly, no other player could be said to have stood out.
They were all highly-efficient components of a smart system.
One that had both the patience and the gumption to salvage a season from the precipice of disaster.
They led by 0-11 to 0-5 at half-time, at which time Alan O'Connor had gone off screaming in pain after injuring his knee.
If Cork had ducks...
When Kelly stitched a brilliant goal with his left foot after just four minutes of the second half, the writing wasn't so much one the ball as plastered in high-vis luminous paint all over Semple Stadium.
"I think the Laois match lifted a certain amount. Then the Dublin game dragged us back down again.
"Then the Offaly game was a bit of a lift," reflected Ryan of a season when his team slumped into Division 3, were dismembered by the Dubs and suffered player defections amid a crescendo of unrest.
"So it's been a rollercoaster. But it's been a rollercoaster for everyone involved.
"The last few days, it's going the right direction for us rather than up and down.
"We've won three games on the trot. We didn't do that this year. It's great."
Quite what Brian Cuthbert made of it all, we'll possibly never know.
He declined interview requests both from Sky, the live TV broadcaster, and attendant print and radio media.
And it would, you could only conclude, be at least a mild shock if he was around for the start of next season.
"They played a few days ago. It's really tough," offered Ryan in mitigation.
"Conditions were horrendous in Killarney so physically and mentally, that would have taken a lot out of them."
Ryan was also asked whether expectation levels would now naturally mushroom in a county well known for its native optimism, whether justified or imagined.
"I don't think expectation levels can increase," he smiled, knowingly.
"In Kildare at the start of the year, Leinster, National League, All-Ireland ... that's what the belief is amongst the supporters.
"And that's what the expectation is. And it's been there for a rather long time.
"But today is a big one. Beating a Division 1 team. Into a quarter-final after a few years away from it."
And suddenly, Ryan - who, like Cuthbert, had been moaned and groaned about locally as a flop and one kick-in-the-arse shy of an exit - looks a smart boy once more.
"When you're in this job, you never look at the following year," he insisted.
"This job," he added, "each game is just what you work with.
"And we're in the here and now and preparing for Kerry is all we're thinking about."
SCORERS - Kildare: N Kelly 1-4, O'Flaherty 0-5 (5f), P Fogarty 0-3 (1f), P Cribben, A Smith, M Donnellan (1f, 1'45) 0-2 each, P O'Neill, O Lyons, C McNally 0-1 each. Cork: C O'Neill 1-4 (1-3f), D O'Connor 0-5 (3f, 1 '45), M Collins, P Kerrigan, B Hurley, Brian O'Driscoll (f) 0-1 each.
KILDARE: M Donnellan 7; O Lyons 7, C Fitzpatrick 7, M O'Grady 7; K Murnaghan 6, E Doyle 7, E Bolton 7; T Moolick 6, P Cribben 8; C McNally 6, E O'Flaherty 7, P O'Neill 7; N Kelly 8, A Smith 7, E Callaghan 6. Subs: P Fogarty 7 for Callaghan (35+4 inj), P Kelly 6 for O'Grady (38 inj), M Sherry 7 for O'Flaherty (50 black card), M Conway 6 for McNally (56), F Conway for N Kelly (64).
CORK: K O'Halloran 6; M Shields 5, J O'Sullivan 6, S Cronin 5; Barry O'Driscoll 6, J Loughrey 4, A O'Connor 6, E Cadogan 5; C O'Driscoll 5, M Collins 5, K O'Driscoll 4; C O'Neill 6, P Kerrigan 6, D O'Connor 6. Subs: Brian O'Driscoll 6 for Loughrey (12 black card), F Goold 5 for O'Connor (20 inj), B Hurley 6 for C O'Driscoll (h-t), T Clancy 6 for Cronin (43), J O'Rourke 5 for Dorman (48), D Óg Hodnett for O'Sullivan (65).
WIDES - Kildare: 6 (4 + 2). Cork: 9 (4 + 5).
BOOKED - Kildare: 3 (Bolton 1, Fitzpatrick 49, McNally 52). Cork: 0
BLACK: Kildare 2 (O'Flaherty 50, Bolton 67) Cork 1 (Barry O'Driscoll 11)
SENT OFF: Kildare: (Bolton 67) Cork:(K O'Driscoll 54)
REF: Marty Duffy (Sligo)
MAN OF THE MATCH: Niall Kelly (Kildare).