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Monday 11 December 2017

Tyrone make Lilies wilt

Harte hails Tyrone's 'class' as O'Neill and Mulligan roll back years to beat Kildare

IT'S something of an oddity that Kildare's revival as credible footballing force has never provided promotion from Division 2 of the Allianz Football League and after Saturday's opening night defeat by Tyrone in Croke Park, it looks likely that they could remain part of the second-tier furniture for another season.

It wasn't just the way that Tyrone steamrolled Kildare so self-assuredly in the second-half with two well-crafted goals decorating a totally dominant half hour.

And it wasn't just the fact that the Lilies can't for the life of themselves convert more of the handful of goal chances they themselves create in most matches.

It's was combination of both and, crucially, the fact that of their programme of six remaining Division 2 matches, only two are at home.

"It is disappointing, of course," commented Kieran McGeeney in hushed tones afterwards. "The players played well and even when they went a goal down they still pushed on. They probably should have ... we had a couple of goal opportunities near the end that we didn't finish." After the inconsistency of referees, failure to convert goal chances is most popular motif to McGeeney's post-match press briefings of late, and given his team squandered two within the space of two minutes in the closing stages of Saturday night's defeat -- from Pádraig O'Neill and Eamonn Callaghan -- the point was well made.

"We had three definite good chances and a couple of half chances," he noted ruefully. "Maybe two were what I might call 'delicate holes' but I would still expect our forwards to stand up to that.

"When you are creating that many goal chances and not finishing them, that's going to cost you. Ultimately, in a four-or five-point game, a goal at the right time is worth a lot."

They are ... and Tyrone managed two of them. Peter Harte, influential throughout in a sweeper role he alternated with Martin Penrose, scored one and made another for Penrose although the most crucial contributions came from two of the more scarcely seen 2003 Tyrone vintage, Stephen O'Neill and Owen Mulligan.

They started slowly and were deprived of room or ball but by the end, Kildare's much-vaunted full-back line (minus Ciarán Fitzpatrick, who left injured after 50 minutes) were seeing stars.

"They were class," enthused their manager, Mickey Harte. "I suppose that is what experience is all about. You don't shift all your men out at the one time. You do need that quality and you do need that experience but I think that the young men around them provided the energy for them to do that."

Encouraging signs for Kildare were mostly provided by individuals rather than the sum of their parts. Mikey Conway, for one, was immense and kicked six points, including two from play, and orchestrated the Kildare attack with class and confidence.

Behind that, Eoghan O'Flaherty generated plenty of energy from deep and used the ball smartly but left yawning gaps along the flank of the Kildare defence.

Tomás O'Connor's stature as a target-man grows and Kildare's 'bear in the square' was the second-last link in most of what was good about their attacking play in the first half. Besides being able to win ball and hold onto it despite the attentions of swarming defenders, O'Connor's vision and ability to pick the simple ball saw him contribute directly to four of their six first-half points.



Pressure

But when Tyrone started motoring, they looked like the Red Hand of old, even if the names and faces have changed. "We owed ourselves this," insisted Harte. "The last few years we have been poor in a first few games. We lost the first two last year and the year before. It put us under pressure. It doesn't take all the pressure away but you feel much better when you start well. You are not chasing the pack. It is up to us to keep that momentum up."

For all the talk of transition, Tyrone, it seems, will be the team to watch in Division 2 and Ulster this year. Kildare won't be far off either but displays like Saturday night's won't be nearly good enough, even if it is 'only' the League.

"It is the first game in the league only," McGeeney insisted. "It is disappointing, of course. The players played well and even when they went a goal down they still pushed on. They probably should have ... we had a couple of goal opportunities near the end that we didn't finish."

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