Cian O’Neill received a bit of an early Christmas gift on Thursday night as some of the fresh faces he handed out chances to turned in fine performances for Kildare in their O’Byrne Cup win over Offaly.
The Kildare manager was pleased with the 1-20 to 0-11 victory, in a game which saw four players make their first starts for the county and Aaron Masterson come on for his senior debut.
“I think you have to be happy with the first half anyways, we wouldn’t be happy with the second half, but I suppose when you’re trying to integrate as many new guys into the squad and lads coming back – only four lads from the championship starting team played that first half when we were at our best. To see the lads coming in and making a difference is really important for the group going forward,” O’Neill said afterwards.
Monasterevan trio DJ Earley, Padraig Nash and John O’Toole all made their first starts for the county, as did Kilcock’s Jason Gibbons, in a side which featured four players in defence who were part of the All-Ireland winning U20 side this summer.
“Four of our starting six backs are from last year’s U20s and I think every one of them put in a huge performance, as they did in that full-back line last Saturday against Carlow,” beamed O’Neill.
“That was nice to see, and then further up the field we had more youth in there and brought more on in the second half. We’ve had four training sessions, and to be fair the opposition hasn’t been as strong as we would have faced in Division 2, but you take everything in context and you have to be happy."
The attacking gusto with which Kildare played with in the first half was certainly encouraging, and O’Neill was keen to point out that it is something they work on in training rather than it being a case of individual talent just clicking.
“We’re trying to play to a structure as well, and you could see the difference between our scoring in the first half where we played as a team and in the second half when we went a little individual and lost our shape,” he said.
“We’re doing a lot of work in training because I think it does suit the players we have and our style of play, moving the ball at speed, hard line running. I think when we get it right we’re very dangerous, but as you can see, for two matches we haven’t put it together for 70 minutes.”
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