Darragh Ó Sé: Super 8s experience should stand to Kildare

Roscommon need a new plan after their lack of physicality proved telling

Driving home from Clones on Sunday night, I was thinking about the mindset of each team now as they set themselves for the last round of the Super-8s. The Dubs are out the gap, loving life, nothing to worry about.

Galway are through too but they could have a twist in the tale yet if they don’t approach the last game in the right frame of mind. Tyrone and Donegal are gunning for each other, Monaghan have to pick themselves up off the floor,  Kerry are thankful just to be alive.

But what about the two teams that are gone? Kildare and Roscommon are number seven and eight of the Super-8s but they still have to go and fulfil the fixture. Whatever happens, this is the last game of their summer. Every one of them will have the going-out clothes in the gearbag with them the weekend after next.

You’d imagine this will be the norm with this new format. The big unspoken thing about the Super 8s is that we don’t actually have eight teams who are up to competing in it. It’s very rare that you’d have more than four or five of the standard you’d need for every game to be in the balance.


Kildare are proof of the advantages of the new system

So it’s going to be interesting to watch these teams to see how they get over their disappointment – not just in the last round of games but carrying into next year as well. From this standpoint, I would guess that Kildare will find it more of a springboard than the Rossies. They definitely look like they’ve got more out of the year.

Kildare are proof of the advantages of the new system. You wouldn’t have expected to be saying that when they went through the league losing every game. You definitely wouldn’t have seen it coming when they lost to Carlow. They were going nowhere at a rate of knots. Obviously, they got a huge break when the Newbridge thing kicked off but there was no guarantee they’d follow through on it.

You have to credit Cian O'Neill and his players with digging in and taking their chance. Beating Mayo that night gave them something to build on. They beat Fermanagh which, fair enough, they should be able to do but they've carried that form through to the Super-8s. Okay, they lost against Monaghan and again against Galway. But nobody would deny that they've held their own.

Kildare are a coming team. The seventh and eighth team in the Super 8s will always be that. The key is how they use it when they get there. The new format gives teams like that a chance to get more out of it, even if they don’t win a game.

The way it was before, Kildare would have been in a quarter-final against one of the provincial champions. They probably would have been in the curtain-raiser game of whatever double-bill they were drawn in. If they lost, that would have been the end of them.

Championship intensity

There’s nothing glorious about your summer ending in a half-full Croke Park, with you down on your hunkers as the physios from the teams involved in the next game are laying out cones for the warm-up. Or heading out into the streets while the second game is underway, with people trying to avoid catching your eye in case they’d have to talk to you. For a young team, there’s nothing in one big day in Croke Park.

Whatever happens to Kildare in Killarney, they’ve done themselves justice on this run. They’d put together five weeks of sustained championship intensity through the qualifiers and the Super-8s. They’ve turned up to play every day. They’ve been eyeballs-out in every game. There’s no training can replicate that.

Along the way, they look like they've found a team and a structure that has promise. Daniel Flynn will only get better but he's already a massive handful at full-forward. Kevin Feely and Tommy Moolick are a serious midfield. Eoin Doyle is a rock at centre-back. Mark Donnellan is a very good shot-stopper with a decent kick-out. So right there, you have something to build on for next year.

But more than just that, look at amount of Grade-A experience they have to pick through. O’Neill and his backroom team will have four or five hours of video stuff to go through over the winter that is so much more meaningful than anything they’ve had before.

You can rewind the video of a one-off game a million times looking for things but it’s still a one-off game at the back of it all. Anything can happen. When you’re playing week after week against quality opposition with everything on the line, that’s when you know you can trust in what you’re seeing. The patterns of play, the little things each fella tends to do wrong, the one thing that worked but was never tried again – all of it is stress-tested for them now.

Most of all, Kildare know where they are now – and it isn’t far away. They have a good bit to travel to catch the Dubs but then, who doesn’t?

But they played the guts of half an hour against Galway with 14 men after Flynn’s red card and they were well able for them. They’ve beaten Mayo in a game where the pressure on them couldn’t have been higher. They pushed Monaghan all the way and I bet if you asked them after a few pints, they’d swear blind they left it after them and they’d love another crack.

So regardless of what happens against Kerry, they've had a good summer. O'Neill is safe and solid for next year, the county is behind them and they have all the ingredients for a big push in 2019. They have something to build on. They need to go through Division Two like a dose of salts, straight back up to Division One, gunning for a rattle at the Dubs in Leinster and making sure they're back in the Super 8s next year. Throw in a couple of their good under-20s as well and they could be a force to reckon with.

Roscommon however are a sadder story. They started the Super 8s with a trimming from Tyrone and then Donegal brushed them aside last weekend. They have the ignominy of being the first dead rubber team – nothing they do against the Dubs will make the slightest bit of difference to them, to Dublin or to the other two teams. So how do they come back from that?

Disciplinary matters

On top of it all now, they have a situation with Kevin McStay and a suspension for pushing the linesman on Saturday. I have to say, I have a certain amount of sympathy for him, although obviously you can’t be going around putting your hands on these lads. But as bad as it looked, these linesmen and umpires surely have to take some responsibility for their actions too.

Your man the other day looked like a fella who saw the foul on the Roscommon player and his instinct told him straight away that he didn’t need this hassle in his life. McStay was standing beside him and he reacted straight away. I don’t care how one-eyed any manager is, you can tell when someone reacts instantly like that that there has been a foul. It was obvious to McStay, it was obvious to the crowd – it had to be obvious to the linesman.

I had my fun with McStay in these columns before when he was a pundit on The Sunday Game. He was always very up on his disciplinary matters and he had the letter of the law in front of him in his binder and he stuck to it. But in his defence, you can tell by him that he's a man who expects fairness. When he reacted the way he did, surely to God the linesman knew that a mistake had been made here.

One way or the other, McStay has taken his punishment on the chin now and Roscommon will have to get on and play Dublin without him. However that one goes – and I presume we all expect it to only go one way – it’s going to be hard for the Rossies to believe they’ve got anything out of the Super 8s. Their summer is most likely going to end in a quarter-full Croke Park with the Dubs running up a big score and them chasing shadows.

The interesting side of that is what it’s going to mean for next year and years to come. Not just for them but for other teams in and around that level. This is the other side of the Super 8s – are teams going to start wondering if it’s worth their while making it there at all?

Or are they going to be going through the qualifiers a bit like the golfer in the middle of a good round who suddenly realises he’s going have two shots cut off his handicap if he keeps this up? There will be a couple of teams each year who will be full of big talk with themselves, saying they want to make the step up and test themselves against the best of the best. But in the back of their heads, there’ll be fellas thinking they’re as well off out of it.

Tyrone steamrolled them, Donegal's Michael Murphy bullied them nearly on his own.

Roscommon have played very well in patches, especially in the first half of the Connacht final when they matched Galway stride for stride and looked to be a smarter team than them.

But the reality that has hit them square in the jaw is that they're not physical enough to live with these teams. Tyrone steamrolled them, Donegal's Michael Murphy bullied them nearly on his own. Whereas it was a good thing for Kildare to find out exactly how far off the big teams they are, I don't know if you can stay the same for the Rossies.

They have to go away and come up with a new plan over the winter now. The Super 8s have knocked all the wheels off the wagon on them. The old phrase ‘Be careful what you wish for’ springs to mind.

Between them and Kildare, the possibilities of the Super-8s are clear to see. So are the pitfalls. For the teams just below the top of the pops, they give a stark picture of your place in the world. How you react to it over the months that follow will tell you whether they were worthwhile or not.