The following article was published on the Setanta Sports website as a GAA blog back in September 2013 looking back on Kieran McGeeney’s time as Kildare manager shortly after he received his marching orders from the Kildare County Board.
KILDARE UNDER KIERAN MCGEENEY
By Ger McCarthy
Senior squad member Emmet Bolton reflected many people’s views with a tweet asking why 58 delegates who rarely, if ever, watched the Kildare squad train let alone play felt compelled to get rid of the Armagh man after six years at the helm.
True, the former All-Ireland winning captain’s resume is far from stellar. No significant trophy was won under his stewardship and shipping heavy defeats to Meath and Cork in 2012 as well as conceding 4-16 to Dublin this past summer certainly doesn’t look good.
Nevertheless, it is worth remembering what state Kildare football was in before McGeeney took charge back in October 2007.
The previous three summer’s could best be described as awful with John Crofton (who resigned that July) presiding over an opening Leinster Championship defeat to Meath (2-11 to 1-8) before a narrow 3-point qualifier victory over Roscommon preceded a hugely disappointing 1-16 to 1-10 loss at home to Louth.
2006 wasn’t much to write home about either with Kildare suffering a 3-9 to 0-15 defeat at the hands of Offaly in the Leinster quarter-finals. A 5-point qualifier defeat of Cavan in Newbridge on June 24th was quickly forgotten when Derry eased past the Lilywhites 1-17 to 0-11 the following month.
All the good work done in defeating Wicklow and Westmeath to reach the 2005 Leinster championship semi-finals was undone by a 0-21 to 0-9 shellacking by Laois in Croke Park. The biggest disappointment of that summer was yet to arrive however as Sligo eked out a shock 1-11to 1-10 second round qualifier victory in Markievicz Park to end the lilywhite’s interest for another summer.
So if nothing else, McGeeney managed to restore some credibility to the county’s footballers following a difficult three-year period. His constant demand for the highest of standards (albeit at a monetary cost to the county board) saw Kildare qualify for the last eight of the championship in the following years.
Granted, things didn’t immediately go according to plan with a hugely disappointing first round 2008 Leinster championship defeat to Wicklow in Croke Park (Wicklow’s first ever senior championship victory there) raising doubts about the rookie coach’s abilities.
However, the Kildare squad quickly bought into McGeeney’s philosophy and rattled off a 1-point victory over Cavan, a 3-point defeat of Limerick and an impressive 6-point win over Fermanagh through the qualifiers to reach the All-Ireland quarter-finals in the Armagh manager’s first year in charge. The Lilywhites pushed Cork to the pin of their collar in their last-eight encounter and fought back from 2-5 to 0-5 down at half time to come within a whisker of taking the match to a replay.
The curve continued upwards with Dublin proving too strong in the following year’s provincial final to secure a fifth consecutive Leinster title. Offaly, Wexford and Laois had all been defeated en-route to reaching the Leinster decider before Wicklow were dispatched in round four of the qualifiers in Navan to setup a quarter-final against All-Ireland champions Tyrone.
The star-studded Red Hand side proved too strong for McGeeney’s charges on the day despite Dermot Earley’s heroic midfield efforts and ran out fortunate 0-16 to 1-11 winners.
Next, a shock 2010 Leinster championship defeat to Westmeath sent McGeeney back into the qualifiers where a 0-15 to 0-15 draw with Antrim in the opening round saw the Lilywhites travel to Belfast’s Casement Park for a difficult replay assignment.
A bruising 1-15 to 0-9 victory – in which John Doyle contributed 1-6 – got Kildare’s summer back on track preceding a straightforward 1-12 to 0-6 defeat of Leitrim, a stunning 2-17 to 1-9 win in Celtic Park to oust Derry and an equally impressive 4-point defeat of Monaghan in Croke Park.
The quarter-final stage had previously proven a graveyard for Kildare footballers and their supporters but a new-found inner belief allied with John Doyle’s scoring prowess saw the Lilywhites overcome Meath 2-17 to 1-12 on a memorable Croke Park afternoon.
The 2010 semi-finals saw McGeeney take on his old adversaries, Down, in another gripping Croke Park contest where only the width of a crossbar denied substitute Robert Kelly from grabbing an injury-time winner. Kildare were crestfallen at the full-time whistle, rueing their wayward shooting and the fact star midfielder Dermot Earley missed the game through injury.
Things were never quite the same for McGeeney or Kildare following that heart-breaking semi-final defeat as 2011 brought more provincial heartache at the hands of Dublin before qualifier wins over Meath and Derry setup a last-eight clash with Donegal at GAA headquarters.
What followed was one of the most sensational quarter-finals in the history of the tournament with Kevin Cassidy’s never to be forgotten long-range point securing a 1-12 to 0-14 extra-time victory for the Ulster side.
Another year, another last-gasp quarter-final loss.
2012 proved no different when McGeeney re-energised his squad following a Leinster championship loss to Meath by racking up consecutive qualifier wins over Cavan, Limerick (after extra time) and Sligo. Kildare were expected to test Conor Counihan’s free-flowing rebel attack in the last eight but the Leesiders had other ideas and blew McGeeney’s side away following a one-sided 2-19 to 0-12 hammering.
Dublin proved Kildare’s nemesis once again this past summer easing to a provincial 4-16 to 1-9 semi-final victory. Louth were easily dispatched in the first round of the qualifiers before the Lilywhites bowed out of the championship after a narrow loss to eventual All-Ireland semi-finalists Tyrone in Newbridge.
Whilst failing to deliver any silverware, Kieran McGeeney’s record is as favourable as any other inter-county manager over the past six years and especially when you take into account how far off the pace Kildare were back in 2007.
The Armagh man’s time with the Lilywhites will be best remembered for regularly reaching All-Ireland quarter-finals, one semi-final, helping rejuvenate their U21 squads and instilling a professional environment within the county’s senior squad .
The Kildare clubs have made their decision and the county board may well have a replacement in mind (Glen Ryan and Jason Ryan are likely candidates) but whoever takes over has big shoes to fill. One thing is for certain, Kildare GAA is in a far better place thanks to the dedication, professionalism and managerial ability of Kieran McGeeney.
Geezer is unlikely to be out of work for too long.