NO DOUBT the knockers will continue to knock; the doubters will continue to doubt and the ‘Anyone But Kildare Brigade’ will continue to hope, writes Tommy Callaghan.
That despite a mature, workman-like display where Kildare showed their experience, where Kildare showed their appetite to grind out a victory and where Kildare, for the fifth season in a row, have qualified for the All Ireland quarter finals. That in itself is an achievement by any standards.
Yes, of course, we are aware it is time to kick on, to break into that elite top three or four but that is what lies ahead now and hopefully another step in that goal can be reached with a win over Cork on Sunday.
Going into Saturday’s game at Hyde Park, Roscommon, we were told Sligo were a formidable outfit. They possessed some top class players especially up front where the likes of Maye, Costello, Breheny, Marren and David Kelly were players of the highest quality.
Sligo it should not be forgotten led Mayo for long periods in the Connacht final just two weeks previously at this very same venue and with a shrewd manager at the helm in Kevin Walsh, this was going to be a game to test the Lilies, big time.
And so the Kildare fans crossed the Shannon in big numbers once again to a playing surface that in racing terms could be described as soft to yielding but nevertheless looked in tip top condition despite some excessive rain an hour or two before throw-in.
Three weeks on the trot and with Meath dumped out of the championship an hour or two earlier by Laois, Kildare fans were on tender hooks as the ball was thrown in by Meath official David Coldrick, who had come in for some stern criticism a week earlier from no less a man than Mickey Harte.
Kildare opened with a degree of intensity that shook Sligo to the foundations. The men in black seemed taken aback as every time they got possession they were confronted by one, two and even sometimes three white clad opponents.
Smithy, Kelly, big Tomás, Mikey, O’Flaherty (E) on the double and the Lilies were half dozen points clear with only 13 minutes gone and Sligo at that stage had yet to get inside the Kildare 45 metre line.
It was impressive.
It was effective.
And it was heart warming to watch, even allowing for the fact that Kildare were playing with a strong wind at their backs.
Eventually after 15 minutes Sligo opened their account with a pointed free.
Kildare responded with a similar score as Sligo sent David Maye back to help out a beleaguered defence but with Morgan O’Flaherty following suit that ply did not have the desired effect.
The Ballymore man made it point number eight before Adrian Marren conjured up Sligo’s second point of the game from a placed ball.
With half time approaching Sligo, who had inched their way into the game, were awarded a close in free which Adrian Marren took.
His effort was pushed wide of the left hand upright but inexplicably the umpire raised the white flag.
As players (and the Geezer) protested referee Coldrick consulted his umpires but awarded the point and while it mattered little at the end of the day it had the potential to be a catastrophic decision and another embarrassment for the authorities.
No big screen to check this one out (and anyway linesmen are not, and do not look at big screens according to Croke Park officials) but heaven forbid if that ‘point’ had turned out to be a deciding score in the game.
Thankfully it wasn’t, but it makes one wonder that with two umpires, a referee and two linesmen all holding court for a 22 metre free, that no one saw it going wide of the post. What in fact were the match officials doing?
The break duly arrived with just five points separating the sides, Kildare having scored one point in the last 18 minutes and with Sligo to get the benefit of the wind in the second half. It goes without saying that there were many worried looking Kildare fans at the interval.
Would it be enough?
Were Kildare in need of a few pairs of fresh legs?
Would the Geezer freshen up his side?
Could Sligo capitalise on their improved showing in the latter part of the opening half and the awarding of a point that wasn’t?
Squeaky bum time for the Lilies?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Kildare though began the second half like they did in the opener.
Attack. Attack. Attack.
Emmet Bolton had a goal strike blocked away by the Sligo ‘keeper Philip Greene before Eoghan O’Flaherty found range and with points from Eoin Doyle, Emmet Bolton (should have been a goal) Kildare squeezed the living daylights out of a Sligo side that simply had no answer to the intensity of the Kildare team as a whole.
It took the boys in black all of 35 minutes to get their first and only score of the second half and 70 minutes to get their only score from open play.
No doubt the sceptics and the knockers will point to Sligo’s lack of fire power but that would definitely be somewhat disingenuous to a Kildare performance that was, at times, heart warming and impressive.
For Kildare to progress that will have to be repeated over a full 70 minutes but the Lilies, I feel, are slowly but surely coming to the boil and they will push hot favourites Cork all the way come Sunday.
Confidence is high at the minute; injuries would seem to be at a minimum and if goal opportunities can be converted Sunday has the potential to make the Lilies serious contenders.
For Kildare Michael Foley was awesome and fully deserved his standing ovation when called ashore (led by Athy men Marty McEvoy and Paddy Kelly).
Tomás O’Connor wasn’t too far behind Foley with his contribution while Johnny Doyle is to Kildare what Brian Dooher was to Tyrone when they were winning All Irelands, simply outstanding.
What can one say of the defence?
The score line says it all and while there is still need for tightening up, nevertheless to concede just four points (one being wide) and a single point from play says it all.
Is this team good enough to get past many people’s favourites, Cork?
Has the team got the necessary strength and power around the middle to put the southern boys under pressure?
Up front have Kildare the skill set and probably more importantly, the mind-set to prise open the Cork defence?
Remember there was jut a goal separating these sides in the All Ireland quarter final of 2008 (2-11 to 1-11) in what was a cracking game.
From that team Kildare will have six or seven changes, are certainly more experienced now and remember Cork have been out of action for all of six weeks, and if you discount the Munster final fiasco against Clare, that pushes their last serious challenge back to eight weeks.
That gap could make Conor Counihan’s men fresh as daisies or somewhat stale and lacking in game time.
You pays your money and you take your choice.
The Lilies will be the underdogs, Cork will be bookies fancies, and Kildare, after months of being firmly in the spotlight for off-the-field affairs, will come into this game somewhat under the radar.
A great chance.
A great opportunity.
Championship football in August in Croke Park in an All Ireland quarter final, is what it’s all about.
Come on lads, no one deserves more that ye.
Let’s be havin’ ye.
The Hyde, as it is affectionately known by folk from the west, is a fine stadium but one has to wonder if the health and safety ‘man’ in that part of this great little land of ours is the same health and safety ‘man’ that has been throwing an eye over St Conlelth’s Park recently.
Apart from the game, the display and the result there is one abiding memory that will last for many a day following this fixture and this is the amount of ‘porta loos’ in the ground.
Proper toilet facility in the stadium were as scarce as Sligo scores on the day while the general public were expected to use these unhealthy, unhygienic and downright disgusting facilities that make the toilets back in St Conleth’s look like a four star facility.
Many fans (male) refused to enter them deciding the end wall was a more appropriate option. As for many ladies, let’s just say, it was a long drive home.
Me thinks the H&S ‘man’ west of the Shannon has a different set of criteria than the one on the eastern side of the island.
Instead of Hyde Park maybe the headquarters of Roscommon GAA should be renamed Portaloo Park.