You would think that seven defeats on the spin in 2018 would leave Kildare’s confidence on the floor heading into the first round of the Christy Rin Cup this weekend, but that shouldn’t be the case.
As any manager involved with a team in this competition will tell you, the Christy Ring Cup is all about momentum and winning your first game is absolutely key to your chances.
The newly structured seven-week tournament offers Kildare a tangible hope of silverware on what has been a difficult year thus far. The self-enforced absence of permit players has weakened manager Joe Quaid’s hand on a short term basis, but that is in the aid of achieving long term ambitions of create a hurling model that is sustainable and compares favourably against the likes of Carlow, Westmeath and Laois.
Antrim, Meath, Westmeath and Carlow are no longer in the competition after being placed in the newly formed Joe McDonogh Cup, and Kildare should see themselves as one of the strongest teams left.
This weekend they face a Roscommon side who finished in mid table in Division 3B, two tiers below the Lilywhites. They are not a side that should be troubling Kildare this weekend, and it would be nothing short of a disaster for Kildare hurling if they suffered a defeat to the Rossies at home. More difficult tasks will follow, with the visit to a confident Mayo side and the trip to Wicklow, a team that has proved to be extremely tricky for Kildare in recent years.
It is eight weeks since Kildare suffered a heavy defeat to London in Ruislip to confirm their relegation to Division 2B in the league, but the players have since gone back to their clubs and played a number of league games in the interim, with Quaid hoping to see them return refreshed.
“We’ve released them to their clubs to play league matches and that, so it has been kind of a mix,” Quaid told the Kildare Post, stating that they have been back training 2-3 nights per week for the past three weeks.
“The main things was to try and get them back to their roots and try and get them back to basics, and look, it seems to have worked because they seem fresh and they seem hungry.
“We said after the league that the next league game would probably be next January, so there isn’t much point dwelling on it. That’s the one thing I said in the dressing room in London – we need to park this, that the league is over and we just have to get on with it and come back refreshed and go after what our main aim was this year, and that’s to go after the Christy Ring.”
Picking the players’ confidence up is one of the main tasks for Quaid and his management team, yet a win on Saturday would start to allay any fears of confidence faltering.
“Obviously, there is confidence there, but as regards how deep it is we won’t know until Saturday. The Christy Ring runs over seven weeks and momentum and staying injury free is a huge factor in who wins it. If we get a win on Saturday we can go on to Mayo in the following week with confidence, but I don’t think we can be going in with a huge amount of confidence at the moment seeing as we haven’t won a competitive match this year, but we’re confident in our ability.”
Kildare were somewhat cursed during the league with a plethora of injuries to important players, and the list of walking wounded following their final league game on Irish soil against Carlow was really striking. Since then, James Burke suffered a serious illness, but thankfully the young Naas man has recovered and is getting back to his normal self. He will not play hurling again for a number of weekends confirmed Quaid, but his personal health is obviously paramount and hurling takes a back seat in such instances.
Bernard Deay is battling back from a shoulder injury suffered in the loss to Kerry earlier in the league, but this weekend is likely to come too soon for him. Aside from that, Quaid is happy to report a clean bill of health, which makes a change from the constant injuries during the league campaign.
“That was a huge problem that we had during the league, and from trying out things the team probably changed,” he said.
“But it was going back to the thing of this is probably the third panel I’ve built in three years, and all we need to do is get a bit of consistency, and that’s what Kildaer hurling needs to do over the years. They need to have the bulk of their panel there every year, whereas we’re having 10-15 changes forced upon us.”
This year Quaid has made no secret of his desire to win the Christy Ring Cup. It is the Limerick man’s third year managing Kildare, and after prioritising Division 2A survival in his first year, the former All-Star goalkeeper is more focused on landed silverware and sees the open nature of this year’s Christy Ring Cup as an ideal opportunity to do just that.
He doesn’t feel any major pressure to deliver a title despite it being his third year in charge, stating that he has had to deal with a changing panel every year since arriving in Kildare.
“I’d feel more pressure on me to do it if we had the same panel for three years, but there’s a difference between a three-year term with a team and three one-year terms,” he said.
“That’s what it has been – three one-year terms, because we’ve had three different panels over them three years. Every year you’re going into the league and into championship and you don’t know what you have. All we can do is provide them with the best coaching and training as possible.”
Whatever happens this year, there are at least a number of young players who have been given their chance at senior level and have shown the commitment that Quaid has been searching for.
“That has really freshened it up,” he said.
“There would be nobody on the team unless they are good enough. That’s the one thing that we’ve had this year as compared to the other two years; we were able to pick a panel, and we were able to change the panel as year went on, try fellas in different positions and that has definitely been different.”
Roscommon arrive as somewhat of an unknown quantity on Saturday, with their poor run in the league and two straight defeats ending their Christy Ring involvement at the first exit stage in 2017. Quaid admits to knowing little about them, but he doesn’t seem concerned.
“Other teams don’t ever bother me. We can’t control what Roscommon are going to do; we can only control what we’re going to do and that’s what we’re trying to do at the moment. Put the best squad together for the next seven weeks and it’s up to ourselves then after that.”
If you have a story or want to send photos or videos to us please contact the KildareNow editorial team. via our Facebook, via our email at [email protected] or on 045 409350 during office hours.