FORGET about the Euros. Don’t be concerned with the rugby boys playing out of season. Hold off on the Olympics for another week or two. The real action of the summer of 2012, for Kildare GAA folk at least, is upon us.
Sunday is D Day.
Day one of many a D Day in 2012.
The Lilies are heading to O’Moore Park to commence their latest journey (against Offaly) in their quest for championship silverware.
At the back end of last year when the pairings were made, the general feeling was one of ‘not too bad, could have been worse.’
The first test of that statement is now finally upon us.
The time for talking is over.
This is what it’s all about.
Everything else fades into the back ground.
It’s championship time.
It has been a good season to date for the Lilies. A poor league start but a mighty ending.
Promotion to the top division and a victory over Tyrone to boot.
But now it’s Kildare and Offaly.
A derby clash that has been known to cause upsets, shocks and even heartbreak.
According to the layers this one is practically done and dusted before a ball is even kicked in anger.
No doubt the players and team management would not agree with the bookies assessment.
There is too much history, too much Kildare history, for most of us in Lilywhite land to think along those lines.
Having said that Kildare have prepared well. They have put in an incredible amount of time and effort for this year’s championship and no doubt will be relieved to finally take to the field, albeit in a derby game but knowing full well that if they perform to their best, on all known form they should succeed.
No doubt, that is the key.
Perform to their best. Anything less, any under performing and if there is one team that will take advantage it is Offaly.
In a slightly different approach this year Kildare have played no outside game in preparation for this one. No rubber chicken friendlies this year as McGeeney adopts the northern way.
Pre-championship warm-ups are kept in-house.
Keeping a close eye on them you can see why.
No quarter asked or given.
No holes barred.
No holding back, regardless of your name or number.
Knocks a plenty.
Bruises by the bucketful.
Anger in abundance.
The will to win, the will to succeed is there for all to see.
But McGeeney, not unexpectedly, is cautious.
Although he admits that compared to last season Kildare are in a better place.
Despite the loss of Eamonn Callaghan (hopes to be back within three weeks) and a few others nursing niggles, overall the Lilies seem to be in top shape.
“And that puts extra pressure on me and the lads (back room team) as we strive to get the permutations right for the day,” admits Kieran McGeeney as he faces into his fifth championship term with Kildare.
Will the team be along expected lines, or will there be one or two changes?
McGeeney, naturally, gives little away.
“Every game is different,” he insists. “It has been proven in the past that the same XV may not be the preferred choice for every game; circumstances change as does the opposition,” he adds.
Players who may have been doing well, (take Mick Foley as an instance) in certain positions (mid field) could be moved further back for this one.
And looking at training it will indeed be a surprise if All Star Foley is not handed the number three shirt for this one.
There are others in the same boat “but that’s where my neck is on the chopping block as I (we) try to get the combination right for each game beginning on Sunday.”
But with a certain air of confidence the former Armagh winning All Ireland captain insists that at this moment we are where we want to be.
“You don’t hide from success,” he stresses “but a team has to learn how to deal with expectations and everyone has their own way of dealing with that. Some players like to talk; others don’t; some players like to meet the press, others don’t but that is a very individual thing and you don’t really know until the game is over if each player treated it right. Remember this is the first time for some players going into a championship game as hot favourites.”
McGeeney, who has led Kildare to three All Ireland quarter finals and one semi final in his four years, admits that having the likes of Mikey Conway and Dermot Earley back fully fit is a huge bonus for the team.
“If Mikey Conway was with any other county he would have been sainted at this stage after what he has put up with and what he has come through, I don’t really know if it is really appreciated out there just what this man has endured and while Julie (Davis) has done incredible work with him, along with Noel (Mallon) and David (Lyons) at the end of the day it is really all down to Mikey, it is he who has to push himself to do what he has done. Incredible, really.
“Dermot is Dermot, a very humble man, just like Johnny (Doyle) the fact that he (Dermot) was willing to line out with the juniors in order to get match practice just shows how committed the man is, you really have to admire him and remember outside of an All Ireland medal Dermot has achieved what any other midfielder in the entire country has achieved.”
“And make no mistake Dermot wants to play, and play from the start (and he has let me know in no uncertain terms) but he does not put himself above any other player, he is here fighting and pushing for a place just like every other player on the panel,” insists McGeeney.
It is unlikely Earley will get a starting shirt but there is no doubt he is edging closer and closer. His appetite and hunger is as great as ever; he has made a remarkable recovery considering he has been practically two years out of the game. Anyone who believes Earley will be just a ‘bit’ player has not been in Hawkfield of late.
Just ask any of the lads who have been given the task of marking him whether at full forward or midifeld and you will get your answer very quickly.
And what of Offaly?
A poor season.
Relegated to Division 4.
Lost their manager after their league campaign.
You can brush most of that aside insists McGeeney.
“Offaly will have a lot of unknowns on Sunday, you can’t look back at their league form; you can’t look back at previous games as there will probably be seven or eight new players and a team like that can be a very dangerous,” he warns.
“Any team is capable of beating any other county team on any given day,” he insists “and that has been proven time and time again. I’ve played against Offaly many times myself and they are a team that won’t fear anyone; won’t fear going for the ball, we know we are going to have our work cut out, regardless.
“Players such as Niall McNamee and young Anton O’Sullivan are top players. McNamee, on his day is practically unmarkable but if you believe as a team that you are making progress, if you believe you are heading in the right direction, you have to learn how to deal with these situations and deal with these talented footballers.”
“I am fully aware that we are favourites going into this game but when players cross that white line it is a very ‘even Steven’ game and Offaly will be the first ones to let us know that; anything can happen and unless you are prepared, unless you are focused and unless you are ready you can suffer and you can be found out very, very easily.
“Offaly down the years have always thought that Kildare were ‘soft’ and that is the way they will approach this game also,” says McGeeney.
There are many ways of describing the present Kildare players but I don’t think there are many who fit into the ‘soft’ category.
‘Soft’ and McGeeney don’t go hand in hand of that you can be assured.
If Kildare have a full hand to pick from (with the exception of Eamonn Callaghan) and providing those niggly injuries clear up, the team should line out more or less along expected lines. However, there is a body of opinion that suggests one or two ‘regulars’ may start this one on the bench.
It’s a tough call for McGeeney and his selectors, there are some fine players doing exceptionally well in training and are just chomping at the bit for a start.
The team announcement, later in the week, will be awaited anxiously by both players and fans alike.
There is no doubt that this is one of the strongest panels Kildare have assembled for some time.
The players know that, the team management know that and hopefully that is the difference between the team of 2012 and teams that have gone before.
Strength in numbers.
Strength in depth.
- Tommy Callaghan