WILLIE Sunderland has conceded that Kildare’s hopes of remaining in Division 2A of the Allianz Hurling League may hinge on them winning all three of their remaining games against Derry, Kerry and Westmeath.
Last Sunday, in Croke Park, the Lilywhites slipped to a second successive loss when going down 3-13 to 2-14 to Wicklow and as a result of last weekend’s games, Kildare prop up the standings as the only team without a point on the board.
This weekend Sunderland and Kildare will travel north to take on Derry, a team they comfortably beat in the Kehoe Cup but one which found enough form to run out easy winners over Wicklow in the league opener a fortnight ago.
“We could end up now needing three wins in order to stay in the division and that is a tough ask but we can’t just lie down now, even as disappointing as losing a hurling match to Wicklow is,” explained Sunderland.
“We have got to knuckle down and it is going to make the trip to Derry very awkward next week. But we can’t just throw in the towel either.
“We always knew that we were going to be under pressure; we always knew that we expected battles from all the five teams in the group but we also expected that we would have a great chance against Wicklow, Kerry and Derry and that is now how it is panning out to be.
“We are going to have to go back, take on board what happened today, get that pain out of that dressing room that is there and do something with it or use it to positive effect in the future.”
For a man who sets high standards for both himself and his players, it was easy to see the anguish in Sunderland’s face following the final whistle.
“I don’t know if disappointed is the right word; I’m devastated, disgusted to be honest,” was his blunt assessment.
“I really thought that we were going to come out of here with a victory today but I think we left it behind us, probably more in the first half if anything else.
“We started well and then, having talked about starting well and pushing on, we didn’t push on and we got sucked back into a battle. You could see then in the second half that we were barely on when we should have been kicking on but then we conceded a goal that put Wicklow back into the game and we were essentially on the back foot from there out.”
Sunderland pin-pointed David Harney missed goal chance three minutes into the second half which, had the Clane clubman found the net, would have moved the Lilywhites 2-9 to 0-6 in front. Instead, Harney’s weak effort was cleared and on the counter-attack it was Wicklow who found the net through Andy O’Brien for the first of his side’s three goals.
“In all fairness David should have buried that in my view and then Wicklow go straight down the field and stick it in the back of the net for a six-point turn-about,” continued Sunderland.
“But then we got back again but it’s hugely disappointing to lose this; it’s a killer blow!”
The Kildare manager did however, absolved his defence of any blame for Wicklow’s three goals, insisting that the damage was done further out the field.
“It wasn’t solely down to the three lads in the full-back line either; it’s down to what’s happening around you and in front of you.
“We were breaking ball further out the pitch that we should have been getting our hands on and then when we did that we gave it away too cheaply as well.
“Losing a match is one thing but the manner in which you lose it is sometimes the most disappointing. I feel that the work which the lads have done in training and they did look sharp in doing it, but when it came down to the application on the day it just didn’t happen.”
The last time Kildare played in GAA HQ was back in 2007 when Westmeath beat the then Ben Dorney-managed Lilies. Sunderland dismissed playing in Croker as a reason to why Kildare lost.
“Look, Croke Park is like any other pitch; the grass is green, the lines are white. Admittedly it is a big stadium but if you can’t play here than you can’t play anywhere. The pitch was perfect and not one iota or syllable would I attribute to the Croke Park factor.
“We knew three weeks ago that we were going to be playing in Croke Park. The most important thing about Croke Park was about us winning in it but we haven’t done that. Losing is a poor consolation coming out of Croke Park today.
“Yes players want to play out there and I have no problems with that but you have to go out there, you have perform and you have to win your match so that you can come out of Croke Park and say that ‘Yes, I played in Croke Park and I won in Croke Park’. Today we can’t say that and until we start doing those kind of things we are always going to be on the back foot in that respect.”