Thursday 23 November 2017

Coy Lilywhites flex muscle

IT just goes to show how deep a squad Kieran McGeeney has created since landing in Kildare that he could make seven changes to the team that started the All-Ireland quarter-final defeat against Donegal last August for this Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup opener, and still field what looked a very strong team.

Significantly, though, all six of the subs utilised at Croke Park on that occasion were starting against DIT, along with former All-Star Peter Kelly, making his first start since the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final.


Kelly suffered a cruciate ligament injury in this competition while on duty with UCD last year but got the go-ahead from his college to line out for his county this time around.

He looked very sharp in a hugely impressive rookie full-back line that strangled the life out of DIT, restricting them to just one point from play and not even the threat of a goal in the 74 minutes of action.

"We genuinely do want to win every game but we're probably six or seven short of the championship team we would have had last year" said McGeenedy.

"We tend to change our team more than most. The likes of Ollie (Lyons) people would've seen, Peter they'd know from the year before, Ciarán Fitz(patrick) from the juniors, that's a new full-back line ... and 'Chalky' (Gary White) coming into centre-back, there's probably a lot more changes than people think when you sit down and look at it.

"You have Eoghan (O'Flaherty) moving to wing-back, Mikey (Conway) coming in and playing and Fionn (Dowling) showing that he's growing in stature.

"We have a lot of other players. We're trying to make sure the under-21 players get full games as well, they've had a few challenge matches rather than get 15 or 20 minutes here so they're pushing hard."

O'Flaherty's selection at wing-back was certainly notable, particularly given the influence of Conway on the '40'.

Conway was the team's chief playmaker two years while wearing the No 7 jersey, before he became one of the team's earliest victims of the cruciate curse.

O'Flaherty showed glimpses of the attacking threat he could provide from half-back and it is an experiment that is likely to be persisted with for the remainder of their O'Byrne Cup defence anyway.

First-half goals from Pádraig O'Neill and the rampaging Ronan Sweeney gave the champions an eight-point lead at the break and with their defence in complete control, it was an advantage they were never likely to waste.

Tomás O'Connor was a constant threat at full-forward and once again, had a goal disallowed for a square ball in the 32nd minute. Joe Curley's decision looked the correct one, though, unlike David Coldrick's in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final.

O'Connor also had a hand in both the goals that did count, first spotting Páidí O'Neill's run in the 11th minute and supplying an inch-perfect fisted pass. The St Laurence's man slammed an unstoppable shot to the net from 12m.

Two minutes later, Eamonn Callaghan's shot for a point dropped into DIT goalkeeper, Alan O'Mara's hands. O'Connor managed to dispossess the netminder, however, before feeding Sweeney, who made no mistake from close range.

Alan Freeman registered all DIT's four first-half points from frees and added two more after the interval.

But Kildare were cruising, and with O'Neill and substitute James Kavanagh slotting a brace of points, were never in danger.

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