Darragh Ó Sé: Kildare need to knuckle down after Mayo high
They won’t be able to call on the same sort of adrenaline rush that helped see off Mayo
Kildare’s David Hyland celebrates with his mother Máire after the victory over Mayo at St Conleth’s Park in Newbridge. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
The greatest myth in sport is that one game is the same as the next and that all animals are equal. You hear managers preach ‘one game at a time’ and ‘every game on its merits’ and all those buzzwords. But all you had to do was watch Kildare face up to Mayo on Saturday night to see that there’s more to it. Motivation is half the battle every time you go out.
Kildare lost every game in Division One. That sounds like they were out of their depth. But then you look a bit closer and you see they only lost a couple of those games by a point and another by two. So they weren’t that far away. How come they weren’t able to get it across the line in those games and yet they were able to come through a tight one against a team like Mayo, who’ve been masters of tight games against everybody except Dublin?
There’s no need to complicate the answer – that was the Newbridge effect in action. Not so much the ground itself – those one-point defeats to Tyrone and Monaghan in the league happened in St Conleth’s Park. But the week as a whole, the fight to get to host the game, the buzz around the county. It all fed into making them something more than they are.
I was watching the coverage of the Irish Derby over the weekend and Willie McCreery was being interviewed. He had a few nice horses going at the Curragh and yet the one thing he was being asked about above all was Kildare getting to play in Newbridge. That’s what the whole of last week was about, all over the county.
Kildare were playing for something bigger than themselves on Saturday night.
I saw where Cian O’Neill said something along the lines of they tried to shield the players from it all. I don’t believe it for a second. Why would you? Sure that stuff is rocket fuel. The world’s against us, lads. We’ll fight the powers-that-be here and we’ll use this. Suck it in and blow it out.
Kildare were playing for something bigger than themselves on Saturday night. That was obvious to anyone watching. A team doesn’t go from losing tight games in the league to winning close ones in the championship just by working hard at training and eating their greens. That was a performance driven by the X-factor they got from the build-up.
There was a passage of play just as the 70 minutes were almost up that proved it beyond all doubt. Mayo had possession, Paddy Durcan was making one of those runs down the left wing that nobody in the Kildare team seemed to have a notion how to stop. He turned back for support, they moved the ball inside and Aidan O’Shea took it on the run about 35 metres out.
At that stage, it looked like Mayo were just going to do what they’ve done dozens of times before. They would soak up the pressure, work an opening and then one of their main guys – Durcan, Lee Keegan, Andy Moran or Cillian O’Connor would draw them level. Then they’d either get another to get out the gap or just overpower Kildare in extra-time. I would say most people watching on TV and everyone in the ground – Kildare supporters included – more or less expected that’s what would happen next.
Nobody expected what actually happened. If they tell you they did, they’re having you on. Aidan O’Shea, running at full pelt, was stopped in his tracks and turned over by Niall Kelly, the smallest man on the pitch. You had to look back at it a few times just to be sure it was him.
Adrenaline is an amazing thing. You never get the same burst of adrenaline in training as you do in a championship game, I don’t care how diligent a trainer you are. The circumstances just aren’t the same on a Tuesday night in amongst your team-mates. Adrenaline allows you to do stuff in games that would have people laughing at you if you tried it in training.
Kelly’s tackle and turnover on Aidan O’Shea that told you everything about the mood Kildare were in and the adrenaline that was coursing through them. Ideally, he wouldn’t be the man you’d be putting in that place for that job but he took it upon himself to go outside his normal role.
He was back helping out, more than likely because he was a sub and he had more in his legs than some of the other lads who had played for over an hour in the middle of a heatwave. Above all, the game is about the collective and Kelly was going beyond himself for the collective.
If you’re losing close games time after time, especially in the league, it’s usually because the other team has more of those moments and more of those fellas willing to make them happen. If it happens once, it’s unlucky. Twice, you start to doubt yourself. Three or four times, you’re seriously lacking something. Kildare weren’t lacking it on Saturday night and they got their rewards.
But what now? That’s the big question for them. The build-up to the Mayo game was like a bar of chocolate in the middle of the afternoon. The sugar rush wears off fairly quickly from something like that. And once you eat it, it’s gone. You can’t eat the same bar of chocolate twice.
They have Fermanagh now on Saturday. There’s no war to fight ahead of it, no campaign to get the whole county behind them. All the roaring and shouting from last week means nothing when the ball is thrown in the air. How do they respond?
This is such a tricky week for Cian O’Neill and his players. The comedown from Saturday night had to last until Monday at least. The euphoria of something like that hangs in the air. And rightly so. There’s no point in going through it all if you just shrug your shoulders afterwards and move on quietly to the next challenge.
So they would have taken a few days to come back down after it. As soon as they got back to training, O’Neill would have tried to clear the decks. Alright lads, we’ve nothing won, this is a totally different game coming up. These Fermanagh lads are going to be horrible to play against, they’re going to be sticky and defensive and we have to get our attitude right.
The problem with all that is it’s fine to say but hard to do. You’re asking guys to switch out of the mode that brought them one of the biggest wins of their career and trying to refocus on a completely different sort of game. Walking out onto the pitch on Saturday night, every one of them will be telling themselves they’re ready to go again. But they won’t know for certain until the game is on.
What if they go out for the warm-up and there’s only a small crowd? It’s one thing everybody telling them they have the whole county behind them but what if the whole county isn’t just mad keen on putting their money where their mouth is? All of a sudden, the back-slapping and the fist-shaking of the previous week might start to feel a bit hollow. How do they react if it does?
The more you look at it, the more it seems guaranteed that this game will be an anti-climax for Kildare. Look at what happened to Monaghan when they faced Fermanagh a couple of weeks after beating Tyrone.
Tyrone are a bogey team of long-standing for Monaghan so any win over them was always going to be a big deal. Maybe not on the scale of Kildare beating Mayo but enough for them to take their eye of the ball the next day against Fermanagh.
That was perfectly set-up for Rory Gallagher. Everybody expected Monaghan to grind out a win against them – including Monaghan, I’d say, up until the last-minute goal. Monaghan hadn’t reset themselves to go into that game with the same adrenaline rush that carried them through the Tyrone game. It wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world if the same thing happened to Kildare here.
The prize of the Super-8s is there for them
It all comes down to mindset. I always go back to Kerry’s game against Monaghan in 2007, where they were ravenous for us and we were just there, flat as pancakes, presuming we would come through in the end. We got out the gap that day because we knew Croke Park better and we had a bit more experience. But our mindset compared to theirs? Only one winner. If that game had been in Clones, we were goosed.
Kildare owe it to themselves not to be sitting around next Sunday morning going, “We shot our bolt last week, lads. We just couldn’t get back up again in time”.
The prize of the Super-8s is there for them because man-for-man, they’re a better team than Fermanagh. But after all the Newbridge Or Nowhere was such a factor is bringing them a huge win against Mayo; it would be criminal now if it costs them a defeat next day out.
I think they will just about come through but they have a lot of work to do to make sure it happens.