McGeeney’s Kildare prepare to circle the wagons as familiar Tyrone foes loom on the horizon

Crucial Tyrone and Armagh qualifers threatening to overshadow the Ulster final

Tyrone’s Mickey Harte and Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney will pit their wits against one another again  this weekend

Tyrone’s Mickey Harte and Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney will pit their wits against one another again this weekend


A Joe Kernan interview seems apt this week. The only counties he has managed, Armagh and Galway, must fight to the death in Pearse Stadium.

Elsewhere, Kieran McGeeney, who captained Kernan’s battalion to All-Ireland glory in 2002, finds himself in a “Custer’s Last Stand” scenario against the same Red Hand Indians who denied Armagh the title of greatness.

Sitting Bull’s Tyrone are descending upon Little Big Horn, otherwise known as Newbridge, this Saturday evening.

Remarkably, the Ulster final is mentioned as an afterthought. We start with Armagh’s visit to his Kernan’s mother’s land. Kernan’s former right hand man, Paul Grimley, oversees a team that contains two of the former’s sons, Aaron and Tony, who have yet to recover from a miserable defeat to Cavan on May 19th. Irrelevant victories in the meantime shattered the bookmakers pre-game handicaps but little else was achieved.

Wicklow managed a grand resistance of 0-2 while Leitrim conceded eight goals.

“It’s not up to them to pick the opposition but they have done the job in both games and now this is the first big test for them. This is also the first time in years that Galway have got through a qualifier so both teams have a lot of questions to answer,” says Kernan.

He name-checks Galway’s best player Michael Meehan. Finian Hanley as well. “But as a unit they haven’t done it since the day of the big rain in Croke Park against Kerry,” said Kernan of the classic 2008 quarter-final that Galway lost.

Armagh are closer to a top table return, he feels. We bring up the past again. Mainly the number of his former players walking the line as intercounty managers. And that’s not mentioning Tony McEntee’s work with Crossmaglen Rangers.

Justin McNulty is a win over Wexford away from driving Laois into the fourth round, while McGeeney’s Kildare just put Aidan O’Rourke’s Louth on ice.

“It’s not easy when you are outside your own camp. Tony and John McEntee are two men, certainly, that will be managing for the next 10 or 15 years. Geezer (McGeeney) was always a leader but this weekend is a big test for Kildare too.”

It certainly is. Tyrone successfully raided Newbridge on a freezing league afternoon last March. Stephen O’Neill will probably return from injury to punish any indiscretion while Sean Cavanagh continues to be a major influence in midfield.

“Kildare have proven themselves through the back door but after that league final against Dublin I thought Tyrone were not that far away. They disappointed against Donegal and were lucky enough against Roscommon.

“But they still have the old heads there in the McMahons, Stephen O’Neill and Seán Cavanagh. Boys who have done it all before and there is freshness in the new lads they have taken in. It’s hard to call because Kildare and Geezer will know this is Custer’s Last Stand.

“If they are beaten there could be changes and the whole thing may have to start again which is very hard to do considering the work put in over the last six years.

Up and running
“If Kildare don’t win the pressure will be on. It is a big day for both teams. I just think that win over Louth will get Kildare up and running.”

We almost forget to ask about Clones but he sees Donegal putting Monaghan away although Down showed how to stay with the Ulster and All-Ireland champions. “I still think Donegal will win but anyone can beat anyone else.”

Before we finish, he issued a word of advice for those in action this weekend.

“One thing this weekend that will have a big bearing is discipline. Nobody can afford to get sent off or it will cost the team. Hopefully the referees will referee it so that the red card has to be for intent. Player beware. That’s all I’m saying.”