THERE was something not quite right at Croker on Saturday, hard to put your finger on it but it was probably the attendance, or lack of it I suppose. And while the official figure was somewhere around 31,000, in a stadium that can hold 83,000 plus there is no doubt that when the figures drop under 50,000 or so the noise levels and the atmosphere in the splendid stadium suffers as a result.
In fairness it has to be said Kildare fans were there in their numbers supporting their favourites and while they had plenty to cheer about there seemed to be an awful inevitability about the end result a long way from the finishing line.
That is not to suggest that Derry were poor. They were not and they probably played a lot better on the day than they did six days previously when they lost to Donegal in the Ulster decider.
Of course that entire six day turn around was a major topic of conversation in the run up to this game. The stats suggest a losing provincial finalist has little or no chance to re-group after just six days but of course the fault of that does not lie with headquarters, it lies with the Ulster Council. They can ensure that simply does not happen but of course the Ulster Council is the Ulster Council and they only listen to themselves and do their own thing, regardless.
For Kildare, for the players, for Kieran McGeeney and his management team and for everyone involved this was another very satisfying display and another very encouraging result.
For the fourth year in a row the Lilies are through to an All Ireland quarter final and that has to be seen as very significant.
Of course, and no Kildare fan out there needs reminding, progress is one thing, silverware is something else entirely.
The journey ahead can only be tighter, can only be tougher and can only be more treacherous. But this Kildare side is brimming with confidence at the minute and brimming with belief in their own ability to succeed.
Coming through the so called ‘back door’ has stood to Kildare in the past four years. Unbeaten now in a dozen games, no other side can boast of that sort of statistic but of course as Kieran McGeeney always reminds us the good days are quickly forgotten in the wake of a defeat.
Amazingly enough while there has been much written and spoken over the last week or so about Derry’s quick return to action little or nothing has been said of Kildare’s rapid game after rapid game programme.
This weekend will be four weekends in a row of high intensity, big hitting and huge expectation on players in the white shirts.
Is it too much of an ask?
Is it expecting too much from amateur players?
It is the price, we are told over and over again, a team pays for travelling the scenic route that is the qualifiers rather than taking the traditional route one.
But what about that modern day phenomenal that is health and safety.
What about the much mentioned player welfare.
Croke Park as a body consistently cite player welfare as reasons for this and that, yet at the same time expect players to play in high profile games week after week after week, because it suits the cause.
On Saturday last Kildare, in this writer’s opinion showed definite signs of weariness and even tiredness.
A lot of it of course has to do with the style the Lilies employ. It is high intensity stuff; 15 man football with each and every player engaged in defending or attacking depending on the circumstances.
McGeeney has moulded his side into one that is difficult to defeat, difficult to dislodge and difficult to disrupt ... but it comes at a price.
There is no doubt that the Kildare boys are as fit as any other team left in the All Ireland series at this time and that is down to the enormous work carried out by Julie Davis, the squad’s strength and fitness coach.
And while Kildare may lack players in the mould of the Coopers or the Brogans of this world they make up for it other ways.
Take the half forward line of last Saturday for instance. Padraig O’Neill, Eoghan O’Flaherty and Eamonn Callaghan ran themselves into the ground, covered practically every blade of grass and were still going strong at the end as they were in the beginning.
But one can only wonder when forced to play four weeks in a row can they sustain it?
Can they keep taking the hits as they have been doing throughout this season and keep coming back for more?
Kildare were under pressure against Derry around the middle but they still managed to come through nevertheless. There are not many teams out there that can manage to do that in such circumstances. Again work rate, intensity, incredible stamina, along with an abundance of skill all combined to make the Lilies an extremely difficult side to defeat.
Derry are a very big physical side with some tremendous fielders of the ball. McGeeney moved Rob Kelly to centre stage when things were not going the best and the Straffan man did step up to the mark while Johnny Doyle moved nearer to the Derry scoring area, both players it has to be said benefited from the switch.
But I cannot let Saturday’s game pass without commenting on the referee, and probably more importantly his match day officials.
Referee Doyle’s overall performance I must say was top class. It was ironic that he disallowed a goal (and rightly so) having spoken to his umpires. It was like a repeat of the Meath ‘goal’ that was disallowed in the Leinster Championship with the same match official, the same umpires and at the same Hill 16 end of the ground.
But there was one aspect of the game that the referee fell down on and fell down on badly, in this writer’s opinion, and that was the area of late tackles coming in.
In fairness the referee cannot spot everything that goes on during a game but that is where his officials come in, or at least should come in to it.
How many times for instance was Johnny Doyle tackled late and off-the-ball?
How many times was Eamonn Callaghan tackled late and off-the-ball?
How many times did the umpires or the linesman bring it to the referee’s attention?
Neither Johnny Doyle or Eamonn Callaghan are players who lie down. They take a hit, bounce up and get on with it. If they stayed down, exaggerated the fall or the foul they would probably get better protection from the referee. No one is looking for any favours, just protection, nothing more nothing less.
Hopefully this weekend there will not be a need to return to this subject but if the last few weeks are anything to go by then I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Can Kildare lift themselves once again against Donegal?
Can the legs hold out for another 70 minutes of high intensity stuff?
To date, in the qualifiers, Kieran McGeeney and his selectors have ticked all the right boxes. They have proved time and time again their philosophy revolves around a 20 man game and they will act swiftly if a lad is having an off day, as is inevitable with games coming so thick and fast.
Has McGeeney left anything up his sleeve that has not surfaced as of yet?
Asking players to come out and do it all again for the fourth weekend in a row is a big ask indeed.
Whether it is one step above and beyond we will not know until Saturday evening.
But regardless this, has to date, been a wonderful voyage.
And hopefully it is far from over yet.
Membership of Club Kildare is still open to both individuals and companies.
And remember a Club Kildare member is entitled to purchase tickets for all Kildare games, up to and including an All Ireland final. Now there’s a thought!