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Thursday 14 December 2017

Lilies ease past Faithful

McGeeney's men maul Offaly but boss urges improvement for Royal rumble

IT tells you something about Kildare's current status that they can open their Leinster SFC campaign with a double-digit cakewalk that leaves Kieran McGeeney sounding vaguely underwhelmed by the performance, if not the result. That opening sentence tells you even more about Offaly.

We knew beforehand that Kildare - a team with provincial and All-Ireland aspirations - would be fitter, faster, stronger and more cohesive than opponents who recently can't stop losing in Leinster and who are heading for Division Four next spring.

So it transpired in front of 16,178 spectators - the official attendance for yesterday's Portlaoise double-header and the biggest O'Moore Park turnout in years. Kildare crawled out of the starting blocks (as is their wont) and still won by 13 points, pulling up.

Perhaps the saddest part for the long-suffering Faithful, however, is the extent of the chasm that now separates this once-proud county from the elite.

Several Kildare players weren't remotely at their best, the team failed to convert at least three glorious goal chances ... and still they advanced to a semi-final date with Meath (at Croke Park on July 1) without breaking sweat.

In fairness to Offaly interim boss Tom Coffey, who inherited this bleak scenario following his county's relegation and the resignation of Gerry Cooney, he is not to blame for this performance.

Coffey comes with a solid managerial pedigree and has longer-term ambitions to make Offaly a competitive force once more. But you can't replicate in eight weeks what McGeeney has spent the past four-and-a-half years inculcating in Kildare.

Afterwards, Cofffey was at pains to stress that blame should not be attached to players who "gave it everything" since he took over.

"The last few weeks they were in bed early, the diet was 100pc, and they turned up and went through the pain barrier in training.

"But, you know, the conditioning of that Kildare team and the fitness level they're at ... it's a credit to themselves, and Kieran McGeeney," the Offaly boss reflected.

"If you want to compete, you've got to get to that level and you've got to address it. And, at the minute, we've a lot of addressing to do in Offaly."

How Coffey would love to be addressing some of the 'problems' facing his Kildare counterpart. This wasn't a vintage performance by the winners and McGeeney accepted as much afterwards.

Geezer described it as a "decent day out", highlighting the accumulation of 19 points and several spurned goal chances -- Emmet Bolton smacked the crossbar while Mikey Conway and Padraig O'Neill were denied by the excellent Alan Mulhall.

But he stressed they have lots to work on ahead of the Meath clash. "I didn't think we were pacy today at all," the Kildare boss expanded.

"They gave us space to run into but we were a little bit lethargic in how we approached the attack and suffered for it. We moved the ball a bit quicker in the second half."

He then added: "I thought we did okay but I wouldn't be writing home about it. I definitely wouldn't be telling everybody about Sam Maguire. It's amazing, we go from 'not natural footballers' to potential Sam Maguire winners. We're probably somewhere in the middle, but we have to work on it."

They were certainly slow out of the blocks here. For the first 10 minutes we were given a glimpse into a future that no one of sane mind could have predicted beforehand.

Offaly, playing with brio, controlled aggression and even shades of unexpected self-belief, led by 0-3 to 0-1 thanks to well-executed points from Anton Sullivan, Niall Smith and Ken Casey, their best forward.

It couldn't last. It didn't. By the 20th minute, the ageless Johnny Doyle had edged the slow-starting Lilywhites ahead for the first time. By half-time, the lead had stretched to five - 0-8 to 0-3.

The faltering Faithful had gone 28 long minutes without troubling the scoreboard operator before Alan McNamee advanced from midfield to end the famine, three minutes after half-time.

His colleagues would only score two more, and even the team's attacking totem -- Alan's brother Niall McNamee - couldn't turn the tide on his 35th minute introduction.

McNamee was coming back from a serious groin injury, and the fact he was being marked by a current All Star (Mick Foley) served to underline his understandable lack of match-sharpness. As for the winners, several were razor-sharp, others less so.

Doyle was our marginal 'Man of the Match' choice and not just for his four points from play before departure, job done, near the hour, to be replaced by fellow veteran Dermot Earley.

The skipper had strong competition from full-back Foley, Rob Kelly and especially Ollie Lyons, who slalomed forward from centre-back to deadly effect in the second half, scoring 0-3 from play.

Kelly wasn't named on the 'midweek' team but, as expected, started at midfield from where he made several excellent clean catches to stifle Offaly's early exuberance. He later shipped a knock to his knee and departed as a precaution, after 55 minutes.

By then, the game was up for Offaly and it was only a matter of by how much. Kildare settled for 13, knowing bigger fish await.

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