Lilies find the right balance
Cian O'Neill looks towards qualifier run as his Kildare team survive a Faithful onslaught
Striking a smart balance between the need to score and the requirement not to concede appears to be the biggest managerial conundrum in inter-county football just now.
On Saturday night in beating Offaly in tense and trying circumstances, Kildare just about got it right, but Cian O'Neill warned that his team's more expressive approach wasn't necessarily a permanent feature.
"We didn't feel like we needed to play that way today," O'Neill explained.
"And we conceded two goals, so you've got to look at the evidence."
"The bottom line is, we're not playing Dublin," O'Neill continued by way of justification of his more restrictive methodology in their Leinster SFC semi-final defeat to Westmeath in advance of the shot at Dublin they never got.
"And we're not playing them in the next round either.
"I think any team that wants to aspire to success or greatness, they need to be flexible. And they need to be fluid.
"But I think, when you have Dublin in Leinster, if you want to win Leinster, you're going to have to play them at some stage."
On Saturday night against a fiery Offaly challenge, Kildare's players looked much more comfortable in this less straight-jacketed style and flourished early.
Vitally, they got their most dangerous forwards, Niall Kelly and Neil Flynn, on the ball with much greater frequency than had been the case heretofore and in slightly more space, too.
Between them, they got nine points and you suspect there's much more to come from those two in tandem for Kildare.
The omnipresent Tommy Moolick and Emmet Bolton carried ball with a conviction that wasn't particularly noticeable in Kildare's Croke Park performances this year and by the 38th minute, they had sculpted a deserved 1-14 to 0-10 lead.
"Momentum is immeasurable," O'Neill noted of that patch of play thereafter, when that force was thrust into forcefully Offaly's hands by way of goals from a Nigel Dunne penalty and within five minutes, Peter Cunningham, directly off a Kildare turnover.
"And when momentum goes against you, it takes something really big and really important to break it.
"Similar to Westmeath, Offaly didn't go anything special to do that. We just made silly errors and silly decisions."
By the 58th minute, the match was level thanks in the main to continuation of what O'Neill called "this famed Kildare tradition of leaving the opposition back in."
"The dangerous thing about playing at home is that if things don't go well, they can quickly go the other way," he noted of that anxious period before Offaly midfielder Eoin Carroll was sent off for a second yellow card and Eoghan O'Flaherty coming off the bench to kick a couple of settling frees.
"But I didn't feel that happen. I didn't hear that when Offaly were coming back into the game.
"Normally, I can hear every bit of abuse that's directed at me…"
By the end, a visibly relieved O'Neill was taking hearty pats on the back for his team's ballsy finish.
"It's heartbreaking after a massive effort like that," Offaly manager, Pat Flanagan sighed afterwards.
He continued: "I know we've let our supporters down again, but hopefully they'll understand that these boys fought tooth and nail right to the bitter end."
The qualifiers is a very familiar terrain for Kildare and with such a metal-testing evening successfully behind them, they began to look onwards.
"Our focus going into today was redemption," O'Neill stressed.
"Because we were so gutted after the last day. We really were. More than anybody knows.
"But now that we got over this hurdle, you've got to look at the facts there," O'Neill concluded.
"And Kildare have a history of doing well in the qualifiers."
SCORERS - Kildare: N Flynn 0-5 (2f), N Kelly, A Tyrrell (2f) 0-4 each, T Moolick 1-1, F Conway, E O'Flaherty (2f) 0-2 each, D Dylan, C McNally, K Feely, A Smith 0-1 each. Offaly: N Dunne 1-7 (7f), P Cunningham 1-1 (1-0 pen), N Darby, J Maloney (1f) 0-2 each, N McNamee, G Guilfoyle 0-1 each.
KILDARE: M Donnellan 6; P Kelly 5, D Hyland 7, O Lyons 6; J Byrne 6, E Doyle 7, E Bolton 8; T Moolick 8, K Feely 7; A Tyrrell 7, M O'Flaherty 6, F Conway 7; C McNally 6, N Kelly 8, N Flynn 7. Subs: C Fitzpatrick 7 for Kelly (23), E O'Flaherty7 for Tyrrell (47), C Donoghue 6 for Lyons (52, black card), F Dowling 6 for Doyle (52), A Smith 6 for Flynn (53), K Cribbin 6 for McNally (71, black card).
OFFALY: A Mulhal 6l; B Darby 7, S Pender 6, E Rigney 6; N Darby 7, P Cunningham 7, C Donohue 6; E Carroll 6, N Smith 6; M Brazil, N Dunne 7, G Guilfoyle 5; J Moloney 7, N Dunne 7, A Sullivan 6. Subs: C McNamee 6 for Guilfoyle (h-t), B Allen 7 for Brazil (65), J Gethings 6 for Donohue (66), J Lalor for Cunningham (76).
REF: P Hughes (Armagh)