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Monday 24 September 2018

Massive next step for Lilies against tricky Fermanagh

NEW CHALLENGE: Kildare manager Cian O’Neill faces a test of his tactical prowess
against Fermanagh on Saturday evening in Navan. Photo: SPORTSFILE
NEW CHALLENGE: Kildare manager Cian O’Neill faces a test of his tactical prowess against Fermanagh on Saturday evening in Navan. Photo: SPORTSFILE

If you thought last week was difficult for Cian O'Neill and Kildare, this one could be worse. There's a natural high that comes from the sort of victory they pulled off against Mayo last Saturday night, particularly in the unique set of circumstances the Lilywhites found themselves in.

They didn't just take on Mayo, they challenged the establishment and won on both accounts in their own ground.

That buzz of satisfaction you get from something like that is the reason you play sport but that rush of adrenalin isn't the easiest thing to come down softly from, particularly in the space of just a week.

It's only three years since Kildare, in a similarly perilous situation with Jason Ryan after a comparably tough year, beat Cork in Thurles, prompting a pitch invasion and the sort of celebrations we hadn't seen from their supporters until last Saturday.

A week later, they lost by 27 points to Kerry in Croke Park.

It's not so much a physical thing now as a mental one and a tactical one.

They won't have known who they're playing until last Monday morning, at which stage players are still recovering physically from what was a mammoth effort just a couple of nights earlier.

But now Rory Gallaher's (pictured, far right) Fermanagh are there and they'll pose a completely different set of challenges to Kildare in Navan this Saturday evening.

The last time Kildare played against a team with as intense a devotion to defending, they were beaten by Carlow.

And Fermanagh are probably a better version of that.

It takes patience and it takes practice to break that down and the time for Kildare management to devise a game-plan and then the players to learn it is severely limited.

You're talking only a couple of sessions.

Whereas Kildare had big, athletic men to turn Mayo over and gallop into the spaces in St Conleth's Park last week, Fermanagh will mind the ball, keep possession and frustrate their opponents.

Big, athletic men are easily tied up by a group of organised defenders and in the sort of heat we're having at the moment, a turnover can give great energy to the team that forces it and kill the team that loses the ball.

Kildare are a funny team.

They were good enough in terms of talent and organisation to put themselves into contention to win probably five of their seven League matches.

Yet they probably lacked the know-how to win those tight games and the tailspin of consecutive defeats that they went on prior to beating Derry in Owenbeg is symptomatic of a team that maybe lacks a bit of leadership.

Know-how

What's encouraging for them this week is they showed plenty of know-how and any amount of leadership in beating Mayo.

Fellas like Dermot Earley, Johnny Doyle and Ronan Sweeney aren't easily replaced.

Dublin can regenerate their team at the moment without missing a beat but they're the exception.

Even Kerry have found it tough to replace the Ó Sés, Galvin, Gooch and all the rest in the seasons prior to this one.

But there are good signs for Kildare that Daniel Flynn, Paddy Brophy and Kevin Feely, in particular, are becoming real leaders as well as outstanding footballers.

I hope Kildare do win on Saturday, as much for the sake of Leinster football as Kildare themselves.

They have had a habit over the last decade of making incremental progress and then going violently backwards very quickly.

The prize is huge.

If they win on Saturday, they have Galway in Newbridge and probably Monaghan in Croke Park in the 'Super 8s' on top of a trip to Killarney.

They've come a long way since losing to Carlow but their next step is monumental.

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