1. Hands up, we got it wrong
Before yesterday’s opening game in Croke Park, those in the press box were sure of the result. I was more sure than most. Even at half-time as Meath retreated to the bowels of the stadium with a slender lead that opinion didn’t change. After all, we’d seen this from Kildare before and while they’d surely do enough to win out on the day, the worrying sign was that this wouldn’t be good enough to win out over the season.
Those were the standards by which we judged Kildare but how wrong we were. After four seasons of gruelling work, mentally and physically, and after one year of fine tuning where they came up with a system that could match the best, Kildare were outdone and had their tactics turned on them by a bunch of kids new to senior football from just up the road. It can be too easy to exaggerate a loss and to put this into context, don’t be surprised if Kildare are back in an All Ireland quarter-final next month and don’t be surprised if that’s a step further than Meath.
But that’s not good enough for a side that still has no summer silverware and for a side that lay down when challenged yet again, that lacked leaders yet again and that was devoid of footballing intelligence when it came to making space for clutch shots. Even Kieran McGeeney was shown up for being too ponderous and slow to see what was going wrong. This is not a group of All Ireland contenders or a top four side. They are a top seven team who you can’t trust. We admit it. We were way off.
2. Hands up, you got it wrong
Here’s the problem with Kieran McGeeney. He is as self righteous and ignorant to anyone else’s opinion if it doesn’t fit in comfortably beside his, as he is a brilliant manager that has turned football in Kildare completely around. Yesterday during the press conference after the defeat he looked a broken man and then came the inevitable question about Seánie Johnston. Let’s start by saying that there is absolutely zero link between him hurling and Kildare losing. But let’s continue by saying that everyone is entitled to their views on the transfer to begin with and also the way it was forced through via a hurling match a day before the biggest game thus far in Kildare’s season.
When hearing the question though, McGeeney was calculated and cutting in his reaction. He gestured with a stirring motion and suggested that journalists were trying to make a name off the back of the story. It was the sort of arrogance from the manager that gives people a reason to undermine all the good work he has done. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and journalists have actually written about the story because it is a major issue that could shape our games going forward. Yet for all his intelligence, McGeeney cannot see that because it goes against what he sees as right. It’s not a nice trait.
There’s a bar in Athy where I sometimes go for a pint called Frank O’Brien’s. A couple of months back, the proprietor had just turned 90 and was showing me the hurl he used when winning the 1959 Kildare County Hurling Championship. Before that victory and since it, he’s devoted so much time and effort to the sport in the county and it has been like swimming against the tide. On Saturday, as Seánie Johnston lined out for Coill Dubh for a handful of seconds, it was men like Frank O’Brien that I felt sorry for. A big part of his life’s work had been undermined by his very own.
Coill Dubh are a proud club but what they did was shameful and pathetic. There’s no other way to describe their cheap actions. Those defending their decision will say they still won but they didn’t know how the game would go, if they’d need five actual subs, if they’d pick up an injury having made all their subs, yet they were still willing to risk a championship game and risk what their entire panel had worked for and all for what?
Another sport and pressure put on them because the brother of their manager happens to be Kildare football selector Niall Carew? I’ve very specific views on the original manufactured transfer but I understand there is a viable alternative viewpoint. But when it comes to Johnston playing hurling, there is no counterargument. It was a dark day for Kildare and Coill Dubh.
4. No, I won’t back down
Seamus McEnaney. What a man. He stood up to the Meath county board when the world was against him and still emerged. Yesterday he stood up to Kildare and still emerged. That result is one of the great wins in the county’s recent history when you consider the suffocating blanket of bitterness and bile they’ve been training under. Modern football is an exact science and we’ve already alluded to Kildare building to this point for half a decade.
But along comes Banty with a full-back line that were U21′s and with the likes of Donnacha Tobin and Damien Carroll who look like they might have got into trouble when the bus pulled into Navan yesterday evening because it was past their bed time. Rightly, a lot of the talk after this weekend is about Kildare’s reputation being brutally dismantled, and about what Kildare did a day before the game, but don’t lose sight of what Meath did either. It would have been brilliant under normal circumstances. it was remarkable given recent circumstances.
5. Heirs to the throne
We still fancy Cork but after the weekend we got a good look at who else might challenge them when it comes to the All Ireland. We know Dublin got the wake-up call they needed without losing and we know Bernard Brogan won’t be as bad again but even at that, Donegal are the standout candidates. What Jimmy McGuinness has done in two years is startling because there are elite track athletes in this country that have trained all their lives and don’t have the endurance of the likes of Frank McGlynn and Leo McLoone.
Their gameplan is exhausting and demands incredible concentration yet they didn’t flinch against Tyrone and Colm McFadden looks to have evolved his game. If Mark McHugh and Paddy McBrearty can continue to evolve theirs and become long-range shooters who can contribute five points a game between them, then their county will go very close to winning it all.