Cian O’Neill has time to consider what went wrong
Sunday’s second consecutive defeat to Galway raises questions for Kildare
Kildare manager Cian O’Neill congratulates Galway’s Seán Armstrong: Sunday’s two-point defeat extends Kildare’s losing record against Galway. Photograph: James Crombie/INPHO
Most managers will tell you the most important thing about Division Two finals in the Allianz Football League is not the winning but the taking part, although Cian O’Neill isn’t so sure.
Having seen his Kildare team set the tempo throughout the regular campaign, Sunday’s second successive defeat to Galway possibly raised more questions than answers: with eight weeks now before their Leinster championship opener against either Laois or Longford, set for Tullamore on June 4th, O’Neill has plenty of time to both ponder and address what went wrong.
“It is frustrating, because some of the basic things we just didn’t get right,” said O’Neill, Sunday’s two-point defeat also extending Kildare’s losing record against Galway, which goes back 32 years already.
“In fairness Galway played as well as they needed to do to win the game, it’s just a pity we didn’t perform. It’s a very young team, and even though some of them would have played in Croke Park in Leinster minor finals, it’s a different occasion, playing senior for your county. The key thing will be how they learn and improve for this. Sometimes you take a lot more from a defeat.
“We’ve two months break now, and that’s challenging. We’ll give the players a week off, because they deserve it. They’ve worked very hard since Christmas. Then they return to their clubs, have a couple of weekends there. Then it’s into club championship. So eight weeks might sound like a long time, but there are a lot of distractions in between.
“We’re lucky this year with the panel we have. The key thing for us is keeping everyone healthy and fit. I think you’ve seen, if our performances have dipped over the last few games, it’s because we’ve been missing a few top players, and it’s crucial we have those on the pitch this summer. That’s the priority.”
Niall Kelly, with five-points from play, underlined his status as one of the county’s most naturally-gifted strikers, off the left or right foot: “He did, in fairness, Niall showed that again,” said O’Neill, “but maybe part of the problem is not enough of the others did too. We lost some of our attacking threat, with Neil Flynn’s injury, Daniel Flynn’s injury. We scored a goal in every match we won this year, but didn’t even challenge for one this time, really.”
Ideally, Kildare will be back in Croke Park sooner rather than later, and with their upgrade to top flight football already assured for 2018, the overall league experience has been both positive and rewarding: “Look, it’s a young team, a very young team, and they’ve exceeded all expectations in terms of promotion, finishing in the top two. Again, the key thing will be how they learn from this.”
Galway, meanwhile, who enjoyed their first win in Croke Park since their 2001 All-Ireland final win over Meath, have an even longer break before their Connacht semi-final on June 11th, against Mayo, New York or Sligo.
That at least gives Michael Meehan more time to complete his comeback to their intercounty game, Galway manager Kevin Walsh confirming the 32-year-old Meehan had endured another setback: “He was out for two or three weeks there with another ankle injury, but it’s a different ankle so he’s just back now at the minute. Hopefully in the next 10 days you’ll see him back fit.”