It's hard to condemn the team you soldiered with for 16 years, although these are troubled times for Kildare football, and Dermot Earley in no way denies that. After Sunday's 19-point drubbing by Dublin in Croke Park, they head to Offaly for tomorrow's qualifier with more than their season at stake.
They’re playing for their reputation too, says Earley, or at least to show they share some of the character and belief of the Kildare teams of still recently successful times. None of that, says Earley, was evident against Dublin last Sunday.
“As a supporter, which I am now, you always go in with hope,” he says. “But I think the Kildare players went in with hope, too. And if you hope you’re going to win a game, you’re not going to win it. You have to really believe you’re going to win.
“And they didn’t do that. They didn’t believe. What was also disappointing was the level they played at. And their fitness levels. And that they waited until the second half to really put the fight up. So there were a lot of things to be disappointed with.
“That’s worrying. But I do know a lot of these lads, and I do know that they’ve taken a lot of these beatings in the past and they have bounced back.
“They’re strong mentally, although the six-day turnaround is going to be a big issue. And they’re in Tullamore, against their neighbours, who would love to take one over us. So they have to be right for this. They have to have their heads right. And if they’re not, I don’t think they’re going to come out of Tullamore with a result.”
Kildare look troubled in other ways too, particularly given two players, David Hyland and Darroch Mulhall, opted out of the panel after Sunday. Tomás O'Connor also opted out after the league, although Earley – Kildare's two-time All-Star who retired in 2013 – reckons that says as much about them as it perhaps does about the management of Jason Ryan.
“The way I see it is, you can stay and you can fight, or you can walk away. Okay, Darroch Mulhall wasn’t on the starting team. But David Hyland was. So I was a little disappointed that they went. Because maybe it indicates that it didn’t mean as much as you would like from a Kildare man. That’s what was disappointing.
"In the past, we always had strong characters on that team, trying to influence and get your message across to the lads. Ronan Sweeney, Johnny Doyle. That's probably where we're lacking at the moment."
Earley doesn’t necessarily believe the management are to blame for that, although there’s Ryan’s position is coming under serious threat, whether they win or lose tomorrow.
“It’s a huge job to manage a county team. And sometimes we’re quick to point out that ‘that’s wrong’ or ‘that’s not good enough at this level’. But at the same time, I think they’re doing their best. And I think they’ll keep doing their best.
“And the thing about the qualifiers is one win can set you up, can change everything. I think if we get a run in the qualifiers we’ll see the real quality if Kildare.”
Earley was speaking in his role as president of the GPA, at the launch of their 'Fair Play Campaign', aimed at encouraging and rewarding good on-field behaviour among county players.
“I think players now realise this type of cynical and sinister verbal abuse has no place in our games. And if we didn’t do anything about it, we were accepting this.”
According to the GPA survey, just over half of respondents said they had personally experienced verbal abuse, 70 percent witnessed a team-mate experiencing similar abuse, and 81 per cent felt managers turn a blind eye to verbal abuse. Nearly 60 per cent of respondents also felt ‘diving’ was an emerging threat within the game.