With thanks to Guest Contributor “White Bridge”, thoughts on Kildare v Monaghan:
After the first round of the league and another reverse against the unstoppable machine that is Dublin we all spoke about lessons being learnt or not and were we really getting closer to them? Division 1 was always going to provide lessons and last Sunday was a different type of lesson that again needs to be taken on board and learnt from rather sharply. Cian O’Neill reflected after this latest game that serious lessons are being learnt. Are they? Our prospects of staying in Division 1 were never going to hinge on the Dublin result, as the unfamiliar kindness of the fixture computer handed us 4 home games in St. Conleths rather than the usual three. Could we make this count?
For the first of these crucial clashes we welcomed the Farney army to town. On parking the car a quick look at the phone and Tommy Callaghan was reporting that a big crowd of away fans were already in situ a half an hour ahead of throw-in. The walk down Main St. was busy as on a crisp, sunny early Spring day plenty of locals were out in force to get a taste of top tier football. We made our way to the usual place in the stand where a fair sprinkling of border accents mixed with the home faithful. A quick look at the teams warming up gladdened the heart as Kevin Feely donning the No. 19 was moving freely and looking like a man ready for action. At the other end the news was not as good as the ominous presence of Conor McManus moved equally well among the Monaghan squad. The subsequent tannoy announcements confirmed that both men would indeed be involved, Feely replacing Tommy Moolick in the starting 15 and McManus included on the away bench.
Cavan’s favourite son Joe McQuillan was the man in the middle and he got proceedings underway on the hour mark. Kildare gained possession from the throw in and Daniel Flynn headed off towards goal at his frightening pace but to be unduly bundled over approx 35m from the posts. Free in and an early lead to settle things down nicely we thought. Big Kev stepped up ball in hand and opted to strike with his left foot. It went well wide……….ok we thought, he couldn’t have trained a whole pile during the week so it will take him a wee while to get the eye in. The visitors made their first attack and Darren Hughes popped over from close range. Feely missed another free – this time with the right – as the lilies could not turn possession into a score. The impressive Dessie Ward doubled Monaghan’s lead before Paul Cribben finally got the home side off the mark in the 9th minute with a fine point after a long run out of defence. The groans from the crowd became more audible as Feely was again off target with a scorable dead ball. In this period the free taking malaise spread to Donnellan who made his way upfield to plant a 45 well left of the posts. Jack McCarron showed them how it was done with a pointed free before Ben McCormack showed good persistence to notch his first of the afternoon. Cribben curled over a beauty to tie matters. McCarron and Kieran Duffy put Monaghan two points in front before Feely finally found his range with a right footed free. Another close in free on 28 mins was taken quickly by Cathal McNally to Chris Healy but the Two-mile-house man was turned away from goal and the chance was lost. 12 months previously and a similar play led to goals against Derry and Fermanagh but this is Division 1. The ball did eventually work it’s way to Cribbin who kicked a monster point from the 45m line to level matters again. That was to be as good as it got in the first half as Monaghan took over. A strong run by Stephen Finnegan ended with a pass to Conor McCarthy who finished to Mark Donnellan’s net for what proved to be a massive score. Kildare suffered a further blow when Cribben who was having a good game and and had taken his points really well inexplicably pulled Darren Hughes to the ground in the middle of the field with no apparent danger. Joe flashed the black book (card) and that was Paul’s day over. His one saving grace was that League Sunday’s worms eye camera coverage later on in the evening left the incident out of their highlights reel. Livewire Ward added to the Monaghan total before the break to leave the hosts trailing by 4 at half time much to the disgruntlement of the lilywhite supporters.
Monaghan kept their team talk short and sweet at the break and they returned to the field as the Ballymore and Castledermot youngsters were still entertaining us, while we had the customary wait on Kildare to return. Unlike a week previously when we simply didn’t show for the start of the second half, this time Kildare flew out of the traps and had the deficit reduced to the minimum within 2 mins. An immediate free was converted by Feely before Ben McCormack hit over two points in a minute. Suddenly, the place was buzzing and we had all the momentum. In the next passage of play Fergal Conway was fouled on the 13m line and while the angle was tight it was a very good opportunity to level the game. Unbelievable the ball was played short again in another failed attempt to work a goal and eventually Monaghan broke up the field where the lilies conceded the first of twelve 2nd half frees 50m from goal. Rory Beggan strolled upfield to split the posts and we were back to 2 point game. Ben McCormack departed soon after with a nasty looking facial injury but half time sub Niall Kelly kicked a lovely point and following a tense scoreless 6 or 7 mins a Feely free did level matters. Niall Kearns pointed from a free before the introduction of Conor McManus got the visiting fans excited. McManus’ first bit of action saw himself and David Hyland contest a high ball – for a big man McManus certainly ‘fell over’ a bit too easily and Joe was only too happy to oblige with a free in which McManus converted with ease. Yet again we found ourselves 2 points in arrears but to the lads credit they kept battling back and a rare Dan Flynn burst set up Paddy Brophy for a score to halve the deficit. Niall Kelly who was lively and is hopefully rediscovering his best form kicked an excellent equaliser and we dared to hope that we could drive on and finish the game off. We just could not find a lead score or indeed keep Monaghan at bay as yet another free allowed that man McCarthy to put Monaghan ahead for the final time. There were 5 mins of injury time called but try as they might Kildare could not work a score. Efforts from Eamon Callaghan and Feely went badly wide while a Brophy effort came back off the woodwork into the safe hands of a Monaghan defender. While they were chances, they weren’t clear cut and Monaghan’s blue wall of defenders stood firm so as not to allow an easy shot at goal. The long whistle went and that was that – a game that could and should have been won but ultimately wasn’t. Serious lessons they said.
Team Performance: Mark Donnellan had a solid day in goals and his kickouts were a huge improvement on the previous weekend. The defence generally can’t be faulted – 1-10 is a miserly enough score to concede and should have had us in a position to win the game at the other end. The full back line were solid all through even though McCarron and McCarthy had their moments for the visitors especially in the first half. Johnny Byrne steped up on his Croker performance while Cian O’Donoghue was the pick of the defenders with a very good all round display. He has pace to burn and if was able to add an end product to his bursts forward we would have a serious half back option on our hands. Midfield probably broke even. Kev Feely got on a lot of ball but at times you did wonder was he slowing play down too much around the middle. Luke has had a fair baptism of fire over the last couple of weeks and came off second best in a couple of aerial battles with the seasoned Darren Hughes. He still looks like a man learning the role and maybe it was a game (and venue) that would have suited Tommy Moolick with 20 mins to go. A total of 12 points is not going to get you over the line at inter county level and if we have any hope of staying in the division our scoring output will have to improve drastically. Leaving aside the missed frees mentioned above we just didn’t look like we had the firepower. Healy and McNally get through a huge amount of work and tracking etc but neither had a shot here. Fergal Conway looks like a man being played out of position and is surely more suited to a defensive role. Cribben was in fine form but messed that all up with his moment of madness. Ben McCormack is very dangerous with the ball in his hand and he was also a huge loss when he went off. Kelly and Brophy both looked good when introduced and maybe both can expect a starting berth for the visit of the red hands on Sunday. Dan had a quiet afternoon bar a couple of runs – you can’t help but get the feeling we aren’t looking for him enough with our style of play although he has to get himself into the game too.
Summary: I have certainly witnessed worse Kildare performances but ultimately this was a great chance to win our first game and set ourselves up for the rest of the campaign. Our spirit was good in second half when it would have been easy to let Monaghan pull away but our attacking play and composure certainly let us down. Galway, Armagh, Monaghan – in all three games we had the winning of it with 10-15 mins to go………..we’ve lost all 3. Serious lessons they said. We have to start learning folks.
I want to finish with the frees. Kevin Feely is our freetaker and in the past 12 months has rightly been lauded for his ability to kick frees with both feet. Any player is entitled to an off day from placed balls but it must be said that we also missed a couple of scorable frees in Croke Park the previous week. It is my belief that at intercounty level all frees from 45m and inside must be converted. It is a long time since I truly felt confident a Kildare player would score all of these. I personally am not a fan of the kick from the hand from a placed ball but everyone to their own.
Roll on Sunday and the visit of the Red Hands as we put ourselves through it all again.