herald

Wednesday 13 December 2017

'Farcical' criticism baffles Kildare

MacLochlainn rubbishes suggestion that Lilies are lacking 'natural' forwards

THEY'RE the rarest Gaelic football breed, found only in the deepest, darkest footballing forests of the most thoroughbred, traditional and 24-carat pure big-ball counties.

Natural forwards.

They're the ones people pay to watch, an endangered species and one which, apparently, Kildare just don't possess. Or so some pundits believe anyway.

It's the pointy stick with which Kildare are poked and beaten at every available opportunity. "No natural forwards," they surmise. "That's why they don't score any goals."

If, as happened last year against Donegal, Kildare are knocked out of the Championship by the slimmest of defeats after having a perfectly good goal from Tomás O'Connor disallowed, it's because of the dearth of natural forwards.

Or, as befell them in 2010 when they were beaten by Down, who had an illegitimate goal allowed when it should have been ruled out for a square ball, well... really, it was the lack of natural forwards that undid them.

Natural forwards ... a description which, as yet, remains undefined by the accusers.

Presumably, they mean the type of two-footed, languid, almost balletic attackers in the Matty Forde/Colm Cooper mould, who don't so much kick the ball stylishly through the posts as caress it thoughtfully with the instep or outside of the boot alike.



Classical

Not enough that Kildare's forwards put the ball over the bar or, despite the accusations to the contrary, in the net (Kildare have scored just one fewer championship goal than Kerry in the past three years) some in the pundit community demand that they do it primarily in the classical stylings of the '70s greats.

"I find it a bit farcical," says Aindriú MacLochlainn, a man who has played on any and all of the Kildare forwards in training. "I don't know what games they're watching, to be honest with you. I can nearly say that every player, including those that don't start, they're the most natural, hard-working forwards."

He expands the point: "Lads can take frees off the ground and out of their hands, with both feet, lads who are willing to work hard, to make runs for other players.

"So I don't know where it comes from, genuinely I don't.

"Sometimes," he adds, "the lads you're marking in training can really give you a scutching and you really have to be on your game. You can't come to training thinking, 'aw, it's a handy game, I know the lad I'm marking'. It really gets difficult."

The facts speak for themselves and give credence to MacLochlainn's assertions. In the past two summers, Kildare have been the highest average scorers in the Championship, a stat which, while also reflective of the handy and impressive ability of their defenders to score prolifically, also contradicts the perceived wisdom.

As for the goal-scoring allegation, it doesn't stand up to even the flimsiest of scrutiny. Under Kieran McGeeney, Kildare have bagged 25 goals from 26 championship matches. In the same timespan, Kerry have 26 from 28, marginally short of Dublin and Cork's per-game averages, but impressive nonetheless.

Figures might well show that they create a higher number of goal chances that they don't take, but rather than merely chastising them for missed opportunities, imagine for a second the carnage if they had taken them all in their championship opener against Offaly.

"We would have been disappointed that we didn't take our opportunities," MacLochlainn concedes, "but in my head it's a lot worse if you're not creating those opportunities. We created them, which is the difficult part. The last part is to finish them off and in the latter stages if you don't take those chances then you will suffer for it."

The emergence of Pádraig Fogarty should help, provided his league final tour de force was an accurate reflection of his abilities. While Seánie Johnston is another who accurately fits the score-taking, goal-scoring mould.

MacLochlainn -- a Kildare senior with a decade of service -- says he has no bones whatsoever about the arrival of the latter, once he showed he was as willing as the rest to earn his Lilywhite stripes.



Willing

"Once he came in the door and was willing to put in the same effort I was willing to put in, that was good enough for me," he insists. "In my eyes he was a Kildare man there and then. It just took other people a while longer to realise it."

Whether Kildare can get him on the pitch this year or not, MacLochlainn is unmoved: "Seánie's time will come when he'll be able to play. He's moving well at the moment and Seánie's goal or task now is to get into the playing panel and push for the team. He's moving well and he has every chance of doing that with his abilities. But that's the task set for him now.

"When Seánie turned up for training the same as me, that's all I want to know about it.

"If he wasn't, then I'd want to know about it. But he's just turning up at the same time as me so that once that was happening, that's all I was really concerned about," he concluded.

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