Cian O’Neill hailed Kildare’s performance against Fermanagh on Saturday evening as the best display of his tenure as the Lilywhites racked up 3-20 in a thoroughly complete outing.
Kildare had 11 points to spare in the end as they routed a Fermanagh side who came with a defensive gameplan that soon had to be discarded once Kildare got on top, and the Lilywhites never looked back after that.
The standards slipped somewhat in the final quarter as Kildare allowed their opponents to kick five points in a row at one stage, but they finished strongly to fatten the winning margin and put some real gloss on the scoreline.
“The first three quarters were excellent,” O’Neill said afterwards.
“The players were just outstanding in that period both offensively and defensively from Mark’s kickout strategy on. I thought it was the best we’ve played not just this year, but in the last three years.”
“Today was our best performance in terms of having a gameplan and executing it. There was no luck involved today; there was no referee’s decisions – not that we ever get them anyways -, but it was just good, honest football from the first minute to the 50th.”
Kildare now go into the last eight of the All-Ireland after taking the scenic route that has brought them to Derry, Longford, Newbridge and Navan, and O’Neill has seen plenty of positives from taking the long way around getting there.
“Someone asked us if it’s better to go the route you went than go the other way, and it’s easy to say that now because we’re there,” he said.
“I honestly don’t think that the lessons we learned through Carlow, Derry, Longford and then Mayo could have prepared us the way any other route could have prepared us. This was a real learning experience and I think maturity is probably the best word to use.”
Kildare are now playing with real confidence and maturity, and to be able to dismantle a defensive side like Fermanagh in such commanding fashion will do them no end of good. The Lilywhites have played various types of opposition in the past few weeks, but O’Neill feels that they have finally cracked the consistency he was craving.
“Last week was probably the trampoline effect,” he said of the win over Mayo.
“We were winning up in Derry and Longford and people weren’t sure, they didn’t trust us, but to do what we did against Mayo… the lads were starting to believe again. To back that up today against what was a difficult defensive system at times, the way we broke it down showed great patience and great football awareness and that was really pleasing.”
The support in Newbridge against Mayo and in Navan against Fermanagh was phenomenal, and there is a real feeling that there is a connection between the team and their supporters once again. Each player who went off as a substitute on Saturday received a rousing reception as they bounded towards the sideline, which is a world away from the dreary days of the spring when there was little to cheer about for the small gang of Lilywhites faithful.
“We’re thrilled with that,” said O’Neill of the growing support.
“When things aren’t going well, you can’t blame supporters for not going to matches. They’re paying their hard earned money, they want something to shout about and they want a team to get behind. I understand that, and similarly when things aren’t going well, we don’t do it on purpose. Sometimes we move away from each other in that regard. But the last couple of weeks, starting last week and the way they got behind the whole Newbridge or Nowhere circus – which was important underneath it all – and then to back it up today is great for them that we’re winning, but it’s great for the players to show that the county are back behind them.”
Now comes the matter of the Super 8’s, and O’Neill admitted that this was one of the goals for his side at the outset of the year, but he is not even dreaming of making an All-Ireland semi-final yet.
“That’s not where we’re at at all. If we’re being honest, at the start of the year getting to the Super 8’s would have been one of our goals without question, as would a Leinster final but look how the first objective went. So we’re going to start with Croke Park next and we’ll take it one match at a time.”
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