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Lilies pass on rule changes

JANUARY isn't the best month for making predictions but here's a couple anyway just for posterity. Firstly, Kildare will compete furiously for every glint of a trophy of any size, shape or description this year.

Secondly, if the Kildare county board consult with their senior football manager before deciding whether to back or sack the latest sheaf of experimental playing rules this coming congress, the establishment is already one-nil down.

These two little nuggets came courtesy of Kieran McGeeney himself yesterday after guiding his Lilywhites to victory in their first competitive game of the year -- a 0-16 to 1-11 O'Byrne Cup beating of UCD in Newbridge.

The match itself was competitive, occasionally volatile and, given our current locale on the calendar, surprisingly fluid. UCD's looming Sigerson Cup date in three weeks time with DCU and the growing vertical graph which has charted Kildare over the past 18 months or so made sure of that.

Yet a couple of the new rules left just about everyone present in a general state of confusion.

The mark, the supposed legislative saviour of that long-lost art, the high catch, was, by our calculations, blown for by referee Fergal Kelly just three times in the entire match. And on each occasion, the catching player instinctively went to run, then stopped, looked at Kelly and held up the game for another few seconds before attempting to aim a kick to a team-mate.

Meanwhile, the redefining of the handpass and more specifically, Kelly's attempts to police each and every infraction, caused minor pandemonium.

We counted as many as 15 'illegal' passes which went unpunished while a couple of players who went to the bother of correctly executing the pass -- notably UCD's Rory O'Carroll in an incident late in the second half which led to a Kildare score -- were wrongly penalised.

New year, new rules, new problems.

"It was hard for both teams to understand what was going on," commented McGeeney, wasting no time at all to air his bemusement at the latest attempts to speed the game up.

"Some of the tinkering to the rules, it's very difficult. In a lot of cases you'd have hand passes going astray that weren't blown up and you had fist passes that were given. It didn't really help things.

"I can't understand the mark. I don't even understand what they're thinking. For a game that seems very stop-start, you'd think they'd do something else that didn't make it more stop-start.

"When the player takes the mark, it's not up to him whether he takes it or not. It's up to the referee -- which is a bit funny.

"I don't see the point why one skill is rewarded over another. Why, if somebody blocks the ball, do they not get possession? Why a catch? But I suppose, there's smarter men make the rules so you just have to try and stick to them."

To add further uncertainty to it all, UCD were experiencing the new rules for the first time in any sort of situation -- understandably so given that their Sigerson Cup campaign will be played under the 'old' ones.

But UCD still fielded a strong side featuring eight starters from Dublin including four of Kilmacud Crokes' All-Ireland club winning starting 15 and one David O'Callaghan.

And it was Dublin hurler 'Dotsy' who helped swing the game back in UCD's direction following an early avalanche of points from a sharp-looking Kildare.

O'Callaghan rose to flick a long delivery back in the direction of Francis McGee who buried the only goal of the game in the 35th minute to leave UCD just one point behind at 0-9 to 1-5.

After eight minutes it had been 0-6 to 0-0 so the transformation was both impressive in its execution and vital for the sake of the contest. Two minutes into the second half Kildare went a man down when Dermot Early was sent off for a second yellow card for a clip on John O'Loughlin and it looked then like UCD might be set to squeeze into a quarter-final tie with Laois.

Winning matches in tight scenarios is a skill fully acquired by Kildare now, though, and looking through their team yesterday, there wasn't a hint of experimentation about it.

Plenty of the players who transformed Kildare from the team that lost to Wicklow in Croke Park in 2008 into the side that nearly dethroned Tyrone in '09, sculpted a win, none more impressively than centre-forward Robbie Kelly.

An eight-point haul from the Straffam clubman, including five frees, was fair reward for his toil and he looks fully ready to take on a starting role this year.

According to McGeeney, the men in possession of the shirts have them to lose now anyway. The trawl for players to fit the mould is over and those out injured, not yet fully fit or new to the squad will have to justify their inclusion from here on in.

"Whoever was playing well in training got picked," said McGeeney, sounding not unlike a certain hurling manager from Kilkenny.

"They're there to keep their place. When the other fellas get their legs again, it's going to be up to them to get it back.

"I'm not going to pick you because you're new to the squad or you've got a reputation. They want to play. They want to fight for their place and they want to keep it.

"You know me, I want to win every year," he said, responding to the increasing thirst for silverware in Kildare. "A lot of it will depend on the players and their attitude towards each individual game. I would hope that they want to win every game. That's the mentality you're looking for," he added.