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Monday 16 July 2018

Lilies turn on the style to seal spot

O'Neill admits personal criticism wasn't 'nice' after outstanding Kildare display in Navan

Neil Flynn of Kildare celebrates scoring his side’s second goal
Neil Flynn of Kildare celebrates scoring his side’s second goal

Kildare seemed a safe bet for a spot in these inaugural 'Super 8s' at the turn of the year.

They were, at that point, peering into a spring back in Division 1, thus technically among the top eight teams in the country, having given Dublin the closest thing they got to a match outside of the All-Ireland final last summer.

The simmering form of the lavishly talented Kevin Feely, Paddy Brophy and Daniel Flynn was bound to come to the boil while the draw for Leinster had been kind.

All they would be required to do was beat Carlow and probably Laois - two Division 4 teams - then absorb the unavoidable beating from the their inevitable Leinster final opponents in such a way that it doesn't affect them for their fourth-round qualifier, wherein a victory would put them in the newly-established elite.

Easy.

And here they are, thriving in July, every bit as super as the other seven.

Indeed, Cian O'Neill even mused whether they are a better team for having endured their collective breakdown and subsequent rehabilitation.

Objective

"I definitely think we're a more mature team because of it," the Kildare manager admitted after Saturday's impressive, if somewhat uneven, victory over Fermanagh in Navan.

"We've learned lessons in those matches that we wouldn't have learned ... well who knows?

"If we're being quietly honest we would have seen the Super 8s as an objective.

"We would have seen a Leinster final as an objective. So when you lose one, the worry then is the wheels fall off your season altogether."

To recap: Kildare went 357 days without winning, suffering 12 consecutive defeats and immediate relegation from Division 1.

The slump culminated spectacularly in that Championship defeat to Carlow that seems now like something that happened a different team in a different time.

On Saturday evening, they were everything they weren't in Tullamore against Carlow.

In the first half - the segment of the match when all the damage was done - they hit 1-13 from 16 shots.

Mark Donnellan's kick-outs were militarily well-drilled. Eoin Doyle was immense at both ends of the pitch.

Fergal Conway set the tone with his physicality and strong running while Daniel Flynn and Neil Flynn were the assassins up front.

O'Neill himself has had undergone his own little rehabilitation in the football nation's consciousness also.

You couldn't plausibly make an argument for his continued tenure of the Kildare team after that Carlow match, pending the then seemingly inevitable end of their summer in one of the qualifiers-to-come.

And even before that loss, the criticism had loudened.

Mainly - it must be said - by some former Kerry players with whom O'Neill worked during his time under Éamonn Fitzmaurice who now have columns in newspapers.

"The biggest critic I have is the inner critic inside me," O'Neill outlined.

"The second group of critics I worry about are the backroom and players.

"What happens around that is just noise because I know last year when things were going well, everything was great.

"This year, when things were going poorly, we knew we weren't that far off it.

"Listen," he added, "it's not nice - don't get me wrong.

"When it steps from professional to personal it's definitely not nice.

"But as I always say to the guys, whatever happens in the four walls of these dressing rooms, they're sacred to us and that's what keeps us going."

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