Thursday 20 September 2018

O'Neill: We will strive to get the balance right

Kildare want to keep attacking style while not leaving defence exposed against Dubs

Kildare manager Cian O’Neill at a Kildare Football Media Day at the Osprey Hotel in Naas.
Pic: Sportsfile
Kildare manager Cian O’Neill at a Kildare Football Media Day at the Osprey Hotel in Naas. Pic: Sportsfile

On the Saturday evening they destroyed Meath in Tullamore, the groupthink around Kildare suggested that finally, another Leinster county were equipped to go and have a full-blooded crack at Dublin.

Eight days, and an annihilation of Westmeath later, the questions being asked were of a less giddy nature.

Would Kildare now sacrifice some of that free-wheeling, hard-running style to retrench Dublin's?

Could they afford to have such a devotion to attack against a team fully armed and capable of blowing them into oblivion given any encouragement?

"Sometimes you need to back yourself," was O'Neill's positive-sounding but non-specific answer to that very question.

Westmeath’s John Heslin is surrounded by Dublin players
Westmeath’s John Heslin is surrounded by Dublin players

"Different teams will view this differently. We've been playing quite well this year. Obviously we've had a few speed bumps along the road.

"Now, we've never met anything to the standard at the level that Dublin can play to. We've never even played a Division 1 team yet.

"But we've invested a lot of time, energy, hard work into getting our game plan right.

"Will we be more defensive-minded? Of course we will! Will we have to put 20 or 30 per cent more intensity in? Of course we will!


"You're playing the All-Ireland champions. But we will still try and play attacking football as well.

"And the real challenge will be trying to get the balance between the two.

"You certainly can't leave any of your defenders or your defensive line exposed against Dublin, so we're going to work really hard on that.

"But we're still going to try and play the type of football that has made progress for us and the county so far this year."

O'Neill also said he had noticed a discernable change in aspects of Dublin's play this year.

"If anything," he says, "I think they've gone more defensive.

"At times, there was 15 men behind the ball. I've never seen that before with Dublin.

"What they do is what they do. But it was interesting.

"At times in the match... and it wasn't because Westmeath had 15 men up... to see 15 Dublin players all behind the 45 metre line was interesting for me."

That was on a day when they put up their biggest score in a Championship match under Jim Gavin (4-29) and recorded their biggest winning margin - 31 points.

"But then the flip side of that is they're so athletic and they have so much pace and they're so skilful, they can break at speed," O'Neill outlined ahead of Sunday's Leinster final, Kildare's first in eight years.

"So maybe that's just an adaptation to what they've done in previous years.

"But are they more direct? I think they're as good as ever. I don't think they're more direct.

"I think when you have someone like O'Gara in there as a target man, that can help a team to be more direct, and he came on the last day. I think their core values and the way they like to play the game hasn't changed.

"They're just changing all the time."

Jim Gavin's team didn't win the League this year for the first time in his reign and had a visibly frustrated look about them against Carlow in Portlaoise in the first round of the Leinster championship.

This apparently, was evidence of an early-summer lull in Dublin's form.

"Anyone who ever doubted them was incredibly naïve. Or even stupid," O'Neill suggested.

"This is one of the best teams of the modern era.


"When they got going (against Westmeath), they were absolutely phenomenal.

"Their movement on the ball, off the ball... their work rate, their intensity. They were incredibly impressive."

None of which, he says, altered the way O'Neill thinks about next Sunday.

"It didn't change anything. If anything, it just reaffirmed what an incredible team they are and what great champions they have been," he added.

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