Ronan Sweeney: 'To say we'd be better off not playing the Dubs is rubbish'
Tullamore Mark II is a must-win replay for Kildare ... and Sweeney believes they will
RONAN SWEENEY, one-time Lilywhite stalwart and now a Sligo selector, was away on pre-championship 'prep' duty in Tipperary last weekend but still managed to catch up with the second half of Kildare/Laois on TV.
He witnessed a familiar theme: Kildare establishing a winning position, then failing to press it home.
This time, though, instead of a crushing early Leinster SFC exit to go along with the five league defeats that propelled his county into the unfamiliar morass of Division Three, Kildare rallied at the death to secure a replay.
No one present could deny that they deserved a second chance, back in Tullamore this Saturday (7.15), the winners to face Dublin on June 28.
Now, according to Sweeney, it's imperative that they drive on ... and he expects they will.
"Some people in Kildare, and it's probably around the country, (are saying): 'Sure, we might be better off not playing against the Dubs'. But that is rubbish," Sweeney tells The Herald.
"Everybody will be really wanting to test themselves against Dublin. They really do (need to win). It's a massive game for Kildare, it really is.
"I don't think they'll lose it but, if they were to, I think it would be a massive setback. We had got a little bit ahead of Laois in the last few years, and we need to stay there.
"But the quality is there. There are good underage players coming through, players who have won a Leinster (U21) championship. So a couple of championship wins at senior level would really give those boys confidence that they are able to compete with the best."
Yet, rewinding less than a week, those Kildare fans who opted for Tullamore instead of their TV remotes - or rosary beads - all seemed to be travelling in trepidation.
Sweeney cites a trait "happening all year", where Kildare get into great positions and then take their foot off the gas and end up "fighting for their lives".
"I don't know whether it's a confidence thing," he adds. "Outside of my generation of players like Johnny (Doyle) and Dermot (Earley), they are missing a lot of good, intelligent footballers who know the right decisions to make on the ball. Fellas that wouldn't get a lot of attention, like Morgan O'Flaherty - excellent on the ball, never gave it away. Or Mick Foley. Hugh McGrillen would always pop up and keep his width, getting forward at the right time.
"Those fellas could still be playing, really. Those are the guys who are massive losses."
For all that, he is "100 percent" convinced that Kildare are now in a "much better place" going into the replay.
"That game, played at a fairly intense tempo, will stand to them," he predicts. "They finished with a better team than they started: Tommy Moolick is probably needed around the middle, particularly against the Laois boys who are powerful runners.
"Eoin Doyle, although quite young, is a tough guy and a real leader - and a quality player. He definitely would have been in (if match-fit).
"Niall Kelly is one of the best young players in the country, in my opinion.
"Even though he only got on for ten or 15 minutes, that will stand to him and give him confidence (in his hamstring). He could punch holes in that defence, if on from the start." Sweeney maintains that the loyalty of Kildare fans cannot be questioned, even in the midst of their back-to-back relegations under Jason Ryan.
"I played through some horrendous seasons and they would still be there in the O'Byrne Cup," he points out.
"I just think that Kildare supporters were, to be honest, pissed off with the way the whole thing was dealt with," he adds, recalling Kieran McGeeney's ousting in a county board delegate vote.
"Most people had an opinion, whether they wanted him to go or stay on … it probably was 50-50. But I just think everybody would agree that it was handled all wrong … and I think that left a little bit of a bitter taste in people's mouths.
"That shouldn't seep through to the team; that is nothing to do with them. I think they just needed a performance, and they need one big performance the next day to get everybody behind them. If they can do that, there is no doubt the Kildare support will travel up to Croke Park."