Kieran McGeeney is building for Kildare’s future, not worrying about make-or-break
Bringing in so many under-21s is the action of a man who intends being around for a while longer
Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney: as he famously said himself, blamed for everything from the Famine to Fianna F áil. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Somewhere along the way, sand has become glass under Kieran McGeeney’s feet. If he was the kind of person who’d ever look down, he might start stepping mighty light across it.
Another Leinster semi-final and all of a sudden, it’s being painted as a referendum on his time in charge of Kildare.
It’s a preposterous notion. Nothing about McGeeney tallies with a scenario whereby he would take over the county’s under-21 team, coach them to a Leinster title, hand seven of them their senior championship debuts and do so with one eye on the door. The long road is kind of his thing.
Go back to 2009, a year into his time in the Kildare job. After a settling-in season, his priority was raising fitness levels. There was ground to make up but he knew it wouldn’t be made up in a hurry.
“They were doing their two nights a week of group training at the time,” says Waterford manager Niall Carew, McGeeney’s right-hand man for five years in Kildare.
A different way
“They were tipping away in the gym on their own on top of that. But it was just what the rest of the middling teams were doing. Nothing more. McGeeney wanted to find a different way of doing it.
“His number one job was to get money in so that the players could have a gym of their own. We got a shell of a building at the K Club and the players themselves fitted it out.
“They fund-raised themselves, all of them with targets for what they could raise. Then they painted the walls and put down the floors and raised the money for the equipment.
“It wasn’t him saying, ‘Do that or ye’ll be off the panel’. It was him saying, ‘Let’s make this a project and let’s take responsibility for it’.”
Kieran McGeeney is easily recognisable in that anecdote.
So why then has the idea that this year is do-or-die for him gained momentum?
Partly it’s down to his longevity. After Mickey Harte, he’s the longest-serving manager in the country.
He has five months on Conor Counihan, who took Cork over in the middle of a fraught league campaign in early 2008. The difference being, of course, Counihan and Harte have won All-Irelands since he started with Kildare. McGeeney has won a couple of O’Byrne Cups.
The most consistent knock against McGeeney’s Kildare is the list of teams they’ve beaten in the championship in his time. Their 21 victories have come against 14 counties – Cavan, Limerick, Fermanagh, Offaly, Wexford, Laois, Wicklow, Antrim, Leitrim, Derry, Monaghan, Meath, Derry and Sligo.
Though most of those teams have bubbled to the surface at one stage or another over the past five years, Kildare were the bookies’ favourites on every occasion.
In other words, they have yet to win a game under McGeeney they weren’t expected to. And any time they’ve been underdogs, they’ve lost. Cork in 2008, Dublin and Tyrone in ’09, Down in ’10, Dublin in ’11 and Cork last year.
They just haven’t been able to nip one against the head, the sort of momentum builder any emerging team needs.