Ryan's relief after a turbulent week
'Emotional wrecks' recover to put Kildare back on track
JASON RYAN, like every inter-county manager, knows the meaning of pressure. It's unlikely, though, that he has endured a more harrowing week that the one just gone: Dublin-inflicted horror compounded by two players deserting the fold, heading for America instead of a must-win qualifier in Tullamore.
Sinking ships and all that.
But now, as a new week dawns, the Lilies are still afloat and their embattled manager is beaming with, well, "relief".
They have survived - just about - a fraught examination of their football nous and psychological well-being. Offaly have pushed them to two points (1-15 to 1-13) and departed the championship with a handful of regrets over what might have been.
But Kildare, specialists of the scenic route, are still alive. Onward and upward. Time to park the Dubs debacle.
"It's been a tough week for the players ... an emotional roller-coaster," Ryan admitted.
"The hype and the pizzazz and whatever you want to put it that went into last Sunday's game. At four o'clock they were all feeling fantastic - physically, mentally, every way. And two hours later they're emotional and physical wrecks.
"So we're just delighted that everybody has come through the week and that we're ready to rock and roll for the next round of the qualifiers."
Losing a Leinster semi-final by 19 points was sufficiently demoralising without the double-whammy sequel that saw Athy duo David Hyland and Darroch Mulhall leave the panel, prompting more negative headlines and speculation about Kildare's resolve to make a real fist of the qualifiers.
Throw all of this into the O'Connor Park pot and it helps to explain their first quarter diffidence (they trailed 0-5 to 0-2 after 17 minutes) and maybe their third quarter travails too, as some stereotypical wides facilitated Offaly's recovery from five down just after the break to come within a point.
Ryan agreed that fragile belief was initially a factor. "You name it - belief, physical fatigue, mental fatigue, because a lot of things were thrown at the players this week," he pointed out.
"It wasn't just losing against Dublin, it was also the fact that they don't have a number of their teammates - they're not there with them any more.
"So that was always going to be difficult, and it was going to hit us at some stage in the game - whether at the start or coming in at half-time or when Offaly would score a goal, or for the last ten minutes. So thankfully, I would say the ten minutes coming into half-time where we really dominated the Offaly kickouts - that was probably the only difference between the two teams," he concluded.
Ryan had been told on Tuesday that Hyland and Mulhall were leaving the panel. It had come as a "big shock to us".
Was it very disappointing to lose them? "Yes".
Will it impact on their return, come next year? "Look, now is not the time to really be talking about that. What we're interested in now is we won."
As for speculation whirling around Pádraig Fogarty's omission, or his non-appearance off the bench, the manager countered: "Podge was there ... he was there ready for action if he was called in."
On the field we had lots of errors, forced and otherwise, from both teams but some flashes of excellence too.
Ciarán Fitzpatrick stood tall in the Kildare full-back line; Tommy Moolick made a big midfield impact when replacing the black-carded Gary White; Alan Smith kept showing for ball as the inside target and could have added a goal to his 0-3 haul; while Eoghan O'Flaherty (scoring 1-7, 1-3 from play) underlined his pivotal importance to Kildare's attacking game-plan.
O'Flaherty's rebound goal on 61 minutes put five-point daylight between the sides; Peter Cunningham's 69th minute retort ensured a few late nerves.
Next February, coming from different league directions, these sides will be in the same division. "I said it to the boys this is not a one-year wonder, we are here to try and plan for the future," declared Offaly manager Pat Flanagan. "If we can develop as much in the next six months as we did in the last six months, hopefully we will be able to hit the ground running in Division Three."