O'Neill shifts focus to league opener against Dublin after disappointing week for Lilywhites

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O'Neill shifts focus to league opener against Dublin after disappointing week for Lilywhites
By Patrick Ward 20:40 Sunday 7th of January 2018

For a second time in five days Kildare put in a performance that was miles away from the standards they set last year as they fell to a four-point defeat away to Longford in the O’Byrne Cup. Coming hot on the heels of an eight-point loss to Louth the previous Wednesday, the current form line doesn’t bode well ahead of the National League opener against Dublin on January 27.

That being said, it was fairly obvious from some time out that Cian O’Neill and his management team were not intent on carrying their best form into the O’Byrne Cup. If they made it to the final they’d be playing just six or seven days before their big showdown in Croke Park with the All-Ireland champions – hardly the ideal scenario.

There is a measure of disappointment to take from the two games against Division 2 and Division 3 opposition however. Kildare have looked porous in defence so far and heavy-legged around the middle, while there has been little invention in attack on show either. There is certainly plenty to work on over the next three weeks.

“We didn’t put in a performance that deserved or merited a win there today,” was Cian O’Neill’s frank assessment at full-time.

“Was it an improvement on Wednesday? It was. Again, Wednesday was that poor that any bit of a step up would be an improvement. Was it the improvement that we wanted? To be perfectly honest, no. We just didn’t mind the ball and we didn’t defend as a group. When we had it we didn’t attack as a group. We just got a bit individual really and we didn’t play as a team.

“Now that will come, but we would have liked to have seen it a little bit earlier in the season rather than coming off the back of two matches like this knowing that we should have done a bit better.

“We’ve got a lot out of it in terms of looking at a lot of new players and young players. It’s time to get the panel trimmed and to focus on the next two weeks really.”

There are worrying signs in Kildare’s attacking play so far this year as the Lilywhites are constantly held up when they reach the opposition ’45, often recycling the ball backwards and waiting for an opening that comes less often than one would like. Longford and Louth hardly set up with mass defences against Kildare, but the attacking abandon of 2017 has looked some way off in these very early stages of the new season.

That should undoubtedly improve over the coming weeks, but O’Neill admitted that he is slightly worried about the lack of punch that his side are currently packing.

“We seem to be moving the ball relatively well through the middle third, but it’s that time of year where we’re working on a lot of things and that is one thing that we have to focus on in the next three weeks,” he said.

“We’re not moving the ball as well as we would like and our movement isn’t as creative as we’d like. We’re not being as ruthless. Once again, like Wednesday, we had a similar amount of shots and chances today, the difference was that we didn’t execute.”

Focus now turns to a meeting with Jim Gavin’s Dublin side who are currently on their annual holiday while a shadow side competed in the O’Byrne Cup. If there is ever a time to play the Dubs, it must surely be the first game of the year when they have yet to play any competitive football. Exiting the pre season competition at the group stage may be the best thing for the Lilywhites, with O’Neill admitting that he is glad to have a singular focus for the next three weeks.

“It’s great now to have those three weeks and to start working on our own game with one single opposition in our own mind,” he said.

“Coming into this competition the focus was to have a look at the lads we brought into the panel and to be fair to them and give them an opportunity. Through Westmeath, Cavan, Louth and to Longford today a lot of new guys have got a lot of football. There was quite a few injuries from the club championship over the winter; lads like Eoin Doyle, David Hyland – that’s the first ball he has kicked in four months – Paddy Brophy is something similar.

“It’s all about getting football into these lads now because they are recognised as players and leaders and they haven’t been on the pitch too much. In a way it’s great to have three weeks to focus on a singular target if you like, rather than wondering what you’re doing the next weekend and who you’re playing. It doesn’t excuse the performance – I’ll never shy away from that – and we have a lot of work to do in the next three weeks.”

By the time the 2018 season is done and dusted nobody will be talking about that cold January day in Pearse Park, so it’s onwards, and hopefully upwards, for the Lilywhites from here.

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