Second bite gives Nolan food for thought

 

Padraig Nolan's ascent into media prominence continues. After devising the downfall of the All-Ireland champions three weeks ago, Offaly's rookie manager was talking the relieved talk of a man who - in the vernacular - had got out of jail. Against his own county, Kildare, Nolan's team had that scrappage look for virtually the whole match. But never underestimate Kildare's propensity to make life hard for themselves - nor Offaly's unrelenting attitude.

"The way we would always look at it is let's battle on and battle," said Nolan. "As long as there's only two or three points in it, there's always a chance of a goal. In fact I thought we started going for goal a bit early. Anything can happen. We might have been lucky to get the goal in the end, but we were unlucky with Barney's (Bernard O'Brien) shot in the first place.

"Kildare were the better team on the day. There's no doubt about that, they moved the ball better, they were hungrier, they were fresher and we're lucky to get a bite at it again."

After the Meath coup, there was much admiring talk of the winning strategems - Finbar Cullen's sweeper role and the manto-man marking. But as is often the case with such specially-formulated plans, the temptation to give them another airing proved irresistible.

"We didn't play Finbar as deep," according to Nolan, "but in fairness Kildare read it very well and John Finn stayed back. So we talked about it and reverted to type in the second half. Some days these things work, other days they don't. They (Offaly) worked hard. They didn't want to throw away what they'd achieved three weeks ago.

"Kildare were very strong in the middle sector. They defended superbly. At times they had three men surrounding one Offaly man. I've been watching Kildare for a long time and that's as good a performance in terms of actually dying to get on the ball as I've seen. Kildare got breaks that were 60-40 against them."

One impromptu call at the very end saw goalkeeper Padraig Kelly summoned up to take a 55-metre free to win the match. The manager explained.

"Without Ciaran McManus, we'd no long-distance free-taker. It was 60 yards and we knew Padraig would have a pot at it and that he'd kick it dead anyway."

The same McManus looks more relieved than anyone. His two-month suspension in May looked like a season-killer. Now two matches on, Offaly are improbably still standing and he'll back for the replay standing with them.

"I know the lads would love to have won, but I'm just delighted to be able to get on a jersey and go out and play. To be training for nine months and miss the whole summer - and if they didn't draw we were out in the club the next week and I would have missed that as well. I might as well have thrown the boots in the dump."

In Kildare's dressing-room, Mick O'Dwyer - managing All-Ireland success before his Offaly counterpart's voice had broken - was presenting an upbeat view of the late, late frustration.

"I'm never disappointed when I'm not beaten, I can assure you. We played very well all through and in fairness it was a great game of football and it was unbelievably fast all the way through. At some stage we had to die. Fellas had run themselves into the ground. I suppose we have to play a little bit better. However we'll be coming. There's another day."