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Monday 24 September 2018

Kildare equipped to break Leinster loser curse

Kildare manager Cian O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile
Kildare manager Cian O'Neill. Photo: Sportsfile

It started with Louth, albeit in the most extenuating circumstances.

Thirteen days after they were cruelly mugged of a first Leinster title in 43 years by Joe Sheridan and Martin Sludden and then denied a replay by the unwillingness of either Meath and the GAA hierarchy to grant them one, they were tossed back into a qualifier match.

"Up until the following Sunday, there was the possibility that there would be a replay," recalls then manager, Peter Fitzpatrick.

"But we went back training on the Tuesday night after the Leinster final and whatever was going to happen was going to happen.

"We knew we had to prepare for a match, whether it was going to be a replay or another Leinster final."

Thus, the curse of the losing Leinster finalists was born.

Starting with Louth in 2010, every team that has lost a Leinster final in this decade has subsequently been beaten in their next qualifier match.

That statistic was referenced by Cian O'Neill, just minutes after his team lost this year's Leinster final. Uniquely, Fitzpatrick's Louth team are the only side in that run not to play Dublin in the Leinster final.

In a further display of their miserable luck that year, they drew Pat Gilroy's team, then freshly chastened by the five goals Meath stuck past them in the Leinster semi-final, in the qualifiers.

Contrast

There are logical reasons behind the inability of the last seven beaten Leinster finalists to win in the next round.

Firstly, the teams other than Dublin in the province have never been less competitive. Ulster sides, by contrast, have won their subsequent qualifier in five of those seven years.

The Munster losers have won four while Connacht, the province with arguably comparable standards with Leinster through the same period, have produced just one team to win their next match - Galway in 2014 against Tipperary.

Within the seven losses, the Leinster side have faced a team from a higher division on four occasions, one from the same division twice and only once have they enjoyed a draw against a side who had played a lower standard of League football the previous spring.

That was in 2014 when Westmeath played Fermanagh, although the former were relegated from Division 2 that April while the latter were promoted to that same division.

There are other internal factors too. In 2011, after they were beaten by Dublin by three points in the Leinster final, the majority of Wexford's players were fixed to line out for their clubs in the local club hurling Championships a week later.

"There are people far more knowledgeable than I that will say 'it's good for them to go back to their clubs' or 'it's good to go back playing hurling and take their minds off losing a game,'" says Jason Ryan, their manager that season.

"I really have a different opinion on that."

A week on and Wexford went out of the Championship to Limerick in Portlaoise.

"If you're a team that doesn't traditionally get to Leinster finals, it's a big day," Ryan outlines. "The build-up is huge. And for a period afterwards, the anti-climax is huge.

"At the start of the year, for a team in Division 3 or Division 4, you probably won't have been talking about winning All-Irelands and if you were, that's probably being unrealistic.

"You probably have been talking about getting to a Leinster final, winning a Leinster final. It's a big ask after that to go into another blast of games to get to September in Croke Park."

Kildare will play their football in Division 1 next year, something none of their predecessors as unsuccessful Leinster finalists could boast.

"They're in a very good position. They're in a higher division that Armagh. They had a better run in the League than Armagh," Ryan, a former Kildare manager, points out.

"They had a better run in the provincial competition than Armagh. So they have a huge amount of pluses.

"I don't see Kildare as being your typical provincial final losers, whereby the group is in a bit of disarray after losing the Leinster final.

"They'll be well-organised," Ryan adds, "they'll be well teed-up and they'll be ready."

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