Following the county’s dismal showing against Carlow at the weekend, many have called for Kildare football manager Cian O’Neill to be relieved of his duties.
GAA management is becoming an increasingly cut-throat business, many have been forced out in player heaves and county board votes over the years, but very rarely in mid-season.
The Kildare footballers need a new direction after their very public annus horibilis against Carlow at the weekend. They have mixed decent performances versus the quality opposition of Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan in Division One of the National League with appalling displays, reaching their nadir this weekend.
This was also the case in their exit at the hands of Armagh last year, when Jamie Clarke was given 30 metres of space one-on-one with a lone Kildare marker. This naivety rose its ugly head once more on Sunday, where isolated Carlow forwards consistently showed through sheer hard running the lack of a Kildare defensive strategy of any discernible pattern.
Life as a Kildare GAA supporter is never plain sailing, even at the best of times, but a Leinster Quarter-Final defeat at the hands of Carlow is a new low, especially considering the reputed talent at Cian O’ Neill’s disposal.
The side are lacking any kind of direction or sense of purpose on the field, resulting in a losing streak of twelve games in all competitions.
This is not to belittle anything Carlow achieved at the weekend. They were representative of everything Kildare are not; well-organised, passionate and economical with their shooting.
Carlow were a cohesive unit and were prepared to go to the brink in order to gain the upper hand in physical exchanges all over the pitch. Daniel St. Ledger showed real leadership ability in anchoring the team from centre half back, while Sean Murphy was the primary link between defence and attack rampaging through swathes of white jerseys in an often condensed midfield space.
Paul Broderick was infallible from placed balls also. Carlow do the simple things and have perfected them to a fine art. The work Turlough O’ Brien has done to instil Carlow football, and indeed, the community in general, with a sense of clear identity has been nothing short of messianic.
This is in stark contrast to the leadership of Cian O’ Neill and his management team. Tomás Ó Sé has sniped at the Kildare manager from his column with some justification in The Independent, referencing his obsession with statistics and the much derided use of occlusion goggles in training.
What has become most apparent is that for all the supposed innovations in training and Ronan Sweeney’s perceived influence as a tactician, the team lack any kind of leadership, both on and off the pitch when their backs are to the wall.
Players like Paddy Brophy, Niall Kelly and Daniel Flynn who are now relatively experienced inter-county forwards had no semblance on proceedings yesterday, while the management could be accused of tactical illiteracy in pushing up to such a degree and playing into Carlow’s hands, allowing them to transition into vast amounts of space.
A constant stream of fouls from the Kildare backs meant that they kept the scoreboard ticking over throughout, as well as ensuring that Mick O Grady’s red card was always a strong possibility as a result of being so isolated.
But where does Kildare football go from here after the first defeat to their neighbours in 65 years?
There will be strong pressure on the county board to remove O’Neill before the qualifiers, in a similar way that Offaly manager Stephen Wallace was dismissed over the last fortnight. The terrace was a cacophony of abusive soundbites towards the management during the Carlow game.
The decision to entrust Eanna O Connor with the dead ball responsibilities, only to see him put in a display so abject (including a missed penalty) that he had to be replaced before half time was a major gripe in many quarters.
O’Neill’s lack of self awareness after a steady stream of defeats has become almost comical, and has been noted by Colm O’ Rourke, espousing the view that,
“There have been plenty of excuses from Cian O’Neill. Eventually, people tire of this and just want to see their team winning.”
The team hasn’t won for almost a calendar year and O’Neill has talked about improvement throughout this dreadful run. They are routinely described as naïve by fan and pundit alike, but there is no appetite to address this widening problem.
Kildare have a proud following of fanatical supporters who are now uniformly screaming for a drastic and quick change. The players have been drained of any sense of belief and consistent underachievement is now met with apathy rather than anger, which may be the biggest indictment of all.
O’Neill’s tenure has created a team of lemmings, who seem to always find ways to lose games. He must go quickly before he sucks more life from Kildare football.