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Sunday 17 December 2017

Lilies face acid test against old 'Geezer'

Kildare have defensive lessons to absorb after Dubs defeat

The then Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney speaks to his players after their All-Ireland SFC Round 3 clash against Tyrone in St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge in July 2013. Pic: Sportsfile.
The then Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney speaks to his players after their All-Ireland SFC Round 3 clash against Tyrone in St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge in July 2013. Pic: Sportsfile.

It was a 50-50 chance and yet, in the karmic way of the qualifier world, simply bound to happen.

Kildare would face either Monaghan or Armagh in Round 4B of the football qualifiers ... they drew Armagh. 'Geezer'. The man who led them for six rollercoaster seasons, reaching five All-Ireland quarter-finals via the scenic route.

Kieran McGeeney's reacquaintance with old Lilywhite friends in a do-or-die championship cauldron got everyone talking yesterday.

It adds box-office appeal to their 'back door' showdown in Croke Park on Saturday week (7.0). Armagh have momentum after three qualifier wins on the spin. Kildare are still licking their wounds after Sunday's valiant attempt - in vain - to topple Dublin from their Leinster final perch.

Former Kildare defender Andriú Mac Lochlainn would have preferred Monaghan - not because it would have meant avoiding McGeeney, but rather he suspects Armagh pose a more difficult test right now.

Mac Lochlainn was on co-commentary duties with KFM on Sunday. Johnny Doyle was also part of the radio station's Leinster final team, and he bumped into McGeeney on the way into Croke Park.

Bond

There remains a close bond between former boss and now-retired Lilywhites - but also the younger generation who are now the mid-20s mainstay of Cian O'Neill's team.

"A good few of the lads were brought through the U21 panel into the senior set-up, so he would know a lot of them very well," Mac Lochlainn points out.

"He still has that grá and, you would imagine, some unfinished business in the future as well. But he wants to win for his home county and he'll do everything in his power to try and make sure that happens."

Harking back to September, 2013, when McGeeney was ousted from the Kildare hotseat by county board delegates, on a 29-28 vote, Mac Lochlainn says: "We very much wanted Kieran to be part of that set-up. It wasn't a player issue; more of a 'political' upheaval. That won't give Kieran any motivation."

While the managerial sideshow will doubtless dominate the build-up, Kildare have more important practical issues to address in the wake of Sunday's nine-point loss to the Dubs. There are "massive" positives to take out of the performance, argues Mac Lochlainn, stressing the accumulation of 1-17 against the All-Ireland champions ("and they should have had another goal") and the fact that Paddy Brophy has another game under his belt.

"It will take him another nine months to get back to his best," he reasons, surmising that part of Brophy's mind will still be "thinking Aussie Rules". He hopes Paul Cribbin will be fit enough for starting consideration the next day; that Neil Flynn may be available; that Ben McCormack may be more up to speed too.

But Dublin, as is their wont, also exposed defensive frailties.

That critical early phase revealed confusion in their rearguard, allowing Dean Rock and James McCarthy to ghost behind the cover for goals created far too easily. "That is my concern - just that lack of experience," says Mac Lochlainn.

"You need guys who have a lot of game-time in that noisy cauldron of Croke Park, where you as a corner-back can't communicate with your team-mates.

"We had a great rule - yeah, you are given man-marking jobs to do but whoever was the most dangerous player close to goal, that is who you pick up.

"I have often coughed up points because I came back to cover who was coming through the middle - in my head it was the best thing for the team. Sometimes it may not have been but, in a split second ... you always protect the goal."

And the concession of goals on Sunday, two in barely 60 seconds, left Kildare gasping for oxygen over the last hour.

With such a lethal assassin as Jamie Clarke next on their radar, the Lilywhite defence will have to be on red alert against the men in orange.

"With Jamie Clarke, he has that terrific efficiency - he can be out of a game for 55 minutes and pop up and score 1-2. He's a difficult person to mark," Mac Lochlainn stresses. "I think Monaghan might have been a better draw ... I think Armagh have more of a dynamic attack," he expands.

Tougher

"They are a lot more seasoned than this Kildare team, and I think it's the tougher of the two draws."

Other complications? First up the injury cloud that hangs over skipper Eoin Doyle, usually so crucial to knitting together Kildare's defensive blanket. He played the Leinster final with a broken thumb which was due to be operated on yesterday.

"I don't think he has any chance of featuring," surmises his former colleague. "It's one thing to play with a broken thumb - another thing to play after surgery. Other players will have to step up to the mark and you could see a bit of a reshuffle. I know David Hyland would love to be further out the field but it depends on the match-ups - that is the biggest thing."

Mac Lochlainn also reckons Kildare will have to be quicker to make changes on the line, citing Bernard Brogan's 0-5 from play off the bench - he would have moved Mick O'Grady onto Brogan and switched Ollie Lyons onto Paul Mannion.

Last, but not least, Kildare need Kevin Feely on the field. Barring a successful appeal against one of his three black cards this year, the latest on Sunday, he'll be watching on.

And given the midfielder's towering form all summer, most recently in the company of Brian Fenton, that could tip the edge towards their old maestro, Geezer.

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