CANDLEMAS Day, Saturday, February 2. The ancient Christmas Festival of Light, marks the mid-point of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox. A sort of in-between time as winter is slowly disappearing and early signs of spring and summer can be seen, writes Tommy Callaghan.
A bit like Kildare would you agree?
An in-between time.
A time of much hope and anticipation for Kildare fans as they travelled to Croke Park on Saturday last with lots of hope, lots of expectation but probably more hope than confidence.
Pre-season has gone well.
The O’Byrne Cup, a great warm-up competition, has brought success but that is nearly an aside.
The O’Byrne Cup also brought signs of possibly a new beginning, not unlike Candlemas Day.
A new era.
A new sponsor.
A fresh approach.
And dare I say it, to some extent at least.
A changing of the guard.
2013 is the year the GAA celebrate 100 years of moving to Croke Park and on Saturday headquarters has rarely looked better.
The place looked simply what it is.
An absolutely magnificent stadium and a credit to one and all who have seen this project come to fruition over the last ten decades.
It is a stadium we can all be proud of and a stadium that any and every opportunity that presents itself to play in should be taken and taken with pride and passion.
Well there was lots of passion on show on Saturday last.
Sporting their new Brady Family Ham shirts the boys in white (with a dash of a few more colours but we won’t go into that at this time!) showed passion in abundance; determination by the bucketful in a heart warming display that can have us all genuinely, and I mean genuinely, with something to look forward to in the weeks and months ahead.
Croke Park officials obviously must be thinking along the same lines.
No sooner had Kildare returned in triumph to the dressing rooms on Saturday and their victory was marked by a magnificent fireworks display.
Kieran McGeeney, no doubt thought that that was a tad over the top but it is not every day Kildare get the better of the All Ireland champions.
And sure if the authorities want to mark the occasion by lighting up the sky why not.
Why not indeed.
But having said that make no mistake, and despite this defeat, Jim McGuinness’ side will not be too far away come the business end of the season.
Let’s not forget they are only three weeks back from their much deserved holiday having returned to collective training a few weeks prior to that.
And they have in Michael Murphy probably the best full forward that is playing the game today.
But they are far from a one man team. On Saturday they had early casualties with injuries to Colm McFadden (2012 All Star), Marty Boyle and Frank McGlynn(2012 All Star) and no Karl Lacey (2012 All Star) or Neil Gallagher (2012 All Star) to boot.
And even without those household names they came ever so close of closing in on Kildare’s six point lead at one stage.
But Kildare refused to buckle.
Refused to lie down and roll over, despite coming under tremendous pressure for a ten minute spell in the second half that saw the All Ireland champions throw everything in their amour at the Lilywhites.
It may have been a fortunate Johnny Doyle goal that steadied the Kildare ship but lo and behold it has been a long time since a slice of luck came Kieran McGeeney’s way in Croke Park.
A long time indeed.
And despite Donegal hitting back with a goal of their own soon after the momentum was back with Kildare as they duly held out for a deserved victory.
While the victory was more than welcome and an early two points could prove vital in this extremely competitive Division 1 league, nevertheless it was the style and the beautifully constructed movement that was simply a joy to behold.
Young players such as Niall Kelly and Daniel Flynn were tasting Croke Park for the first time at this level and both, it has to be said, looked comfortable in their new surroundings.
Kelly in particular made an amount of space for himself at times it was somewhat unreal. His distribution was top notch and that little swerve and side step is a joy to watch, not to mention his three points from play.
Likewise Flynn has a great ability to carry a ball past opponents, has a deceptive stride that can edge him clear of opponents.
All going well it seems both can make a big impact at this level of the game.
Of course how these boys perform on a dirty wet mucky day against the likes of Cork, Mayo, Tyrone, not forgetting the Dubs and the rest of the Division 1 opposition will tell us more but for now we can look forward to seeing them as they step up to the plate with seemingly little nerves and little respect for big reputations.
Another pleasing aspect of Kildare’s play to date is the form shown by the likes of Brian Flanagan, Mikey Conway, Tomás O’Connor and of course Johnny Doyle.
After a sluggish season in 2012, Brian Flanagan has certainly upped his game and is playing with lots of confidence; looks fit and pacey and full of determination.
Mikey Conway (still not convinced operating at number six is his best spot) but on Saturday evening he was the conductor of the orchestra with that trusted left foot finding players at will. His contribution was immense against Donegal and hopefully he can build on it.
Tomás O’Connor is a handful for any defence and while not (yet) in the Michael Murphy category, he is playing extremely well and he took his goal expertly reacting instantly when the ball came off the upright.
And what can one say of Johnny Doyle. Playing closer to the goal than he has been for a while, the Allenwood man looks to have a new lease life. He looks in control, in top shape, eager and hungry for scores.
Overall a great start to the campaign and one that while is very encouraging nevertheless is nothing to be going over board with.
Playing Donegal in the opening game of the AFL was always going to present the Lilywhites with a great opportunity to open with a win; the next bit is the hard part and we will find out more about that come next Saturday night when a big crowd will head to Pairc Uí Rinn to take on the Rebels. The fact that they were roundly beaten by Dublin will see them in no mood to go under two weeks in a row so we can expect a much improved display from the current league champions.
Elsewhere Mayo’s defeat of Kerry will certainly do their confidence no harm while Tyrone showed all their experience when coming from behind to get the better of Down. The Dubs love Croker and that win over Cork will set them up for a good league run.
So all things considered securing two points from the All Ireland champions is a positive here’s hoping that something can be gathered from the trip south this weekend.
And so with the Festival of Light behind us maybe this new season will bring some change in the fortunes of Kildare footballers. We are now up there with big boys in Division 1, acknowledged as one of the strongest top divisions for many a year, retaining that status could indeed be looked upon as a major achievement. One small step has been made, now let’s go out and build on it. Here’s hoping!