Friday 21 September 2018

Sweeney still haunted by the one that got away against the Dubs in 2009

Kildare’s Ronan Sweeney in action against Dublin’s Paul Flynn and Bryan Cullen in the 2009 Leinster SFC final. Pic: Sportsfile
Kildare’s Ronan Sweeney in action against Dublin’s Paul Flynn and Bryan Cullen in the 2009 Leinster SFC final. Pic: Sportsfile

Eight long years, now, since Kildare graced the Leinster senior football final stage. More than enough time, you'd imagine, to dull the pain of that 'what if?' defeat … but then you obviously haven't talked to Ronan Sweeney.

"Lots of memories," the Lilywhite selector admits, harking back to that gripping 2009 decider that ended in a 2-15 to 0-18 victory for Dublin.

"I'd often think back on it quite a bit because I think it was one that we really should have won."

Sweeney has experienced the best of Leinster final times against the Dubs - and the worst.

He was a young colt setting out in his career when they stormed from six down at the break to win the 2000 SFC decider in a five-point canter.

Kildare selector Ronan Sweeney. Pic: Sportsfile
Kildare selector Ronan Sweeney. Pic: Sportsfile

True, he was subbed at the interval, just ahead of the 90-second, two-goal salvo that turned this crazy replay on its head … but Kildare had bagged their second provincial title in three seasons and the future looked bright for the Moorefield youngster.

Cue a 17-year famine …

It's not as if Kildare didn't have their chances: they lost narrowly to the Dubs (in '02) and Laois (in '03) but Sweeney still views '09 as the one that got away.

By then, he was a veteran stalwart of Kieran McGeeney's team. And when Ger Brennan saw red midway through the first half, opportunity knocked.

Key moments

"It was 15 against 14 for a large portion and we couldn't see it over the line," Sweeney laments.

"We had key moments in the game that went against us - whether it was poor execution or decision-making, it cost us. Obviously Dublin were a lot more experienced at the time in terms of seeing out games. Still, it hurts, '09, because that was one that we should have won."

As to why they didn't, he concludes: "We just didn't use our extra man correctly. It wasn't that we caved or anything. (We had) some really narrow misses; clipped the top of the post twice at really important stages.

"We didn't really go at them. So it wasn't a psychological thing, it was just poor play from us really, poor execution. That's the killer … if you could go back and do it again, you'd do it completely differently."

There have been tough days since then, Kildare's 'back door' prowess under McGeeney eventually waning, to be followed by years of traumatic transition that included two Dublin-inflicted routs, in 2013 and '15.

"Everyone is glad to be back in the final," says Sweeney, who is quick to clarify that there is "probably a bit more realism" than was the case in 2009.

"Back then we had probably gone from being - in '07 and '08 - nowhere, and then in '09 we were in a final and everyone expected us to be competing for All-Irelands. That wasn't the case, we weren't at that level.

"But I think now everybody has a sense of realism about where we're at. I think Dublin being so strong makes that easier."

This is Sweeney's first year as part of Cian O'Neill's management team, having previously earned his spurs as a coach and selector with fellow Lilywhite Niall Carew in Waterford and Sligo.

Back in November, he spoke of how the Kidare supporters had "detached" from the county team. He is now happy to report a reconnection - fuelled by top-flight promotion and early-summer triumphs over Laois and Meath.

"It's taken a while because there was a big disconnect there over the last few," he explains.

On board

"To get the fans back on board, obviously the first thing you had to do was start to win some games, but also we had to play an attractive way and to get scoring - and we've been doing that.

"We're averaging 20, 21 points a game. I think gradually the supporters are coming back and I just hope they come out in Croke Park and support us."

He sensed the bond was back during Kildare's penultimate regulation league game at home to Clare.

"The crowd really drove us on because we were letting it slip away from us and it was a game we had to win. We came from behind to kick the last three or four points, I think. There was a huge atmosphere there," Sweeney recalls.

"That was the day we got promotion and the kids were out on the pitch. It's only when you get away from it, when you're not playing any more, that you really appreciate that sort of stuff."

But one last word of warning: during his time in Sligo, they reached the 2015 Connacht final only to face another heavyweight - and ship a 26-point hammering.

"Maybe we felt - and I'm talking about management - that because we'd beaten Roscommon in a semi-final, and Roscommon were a (just promoted) Division 1 team, all of a sudden we were nearly at the same level as Mayo," he recounts.

"But we weren't. And we were found out fairly quickly. But I think there's a good sense of realism in the county and within the management set-up about where we're at and where Dublin are at."

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