|Posted on 28 March, 2017 at 10:15|
KILDARE coach Ronan Sweeney has pinpointed the Lilies’ last-gasp defeat to Derry in round 3 of the Allianz Football League as an important step in the squad’s development, pointing to the manner in which they have closed out tight games in recent weeks to cement promotion to Division 1 as proof of the lessons taken on board.
Kildare had posted comfortable wins over Meath and Cork in their opening games and were expected to return from Celtic Park with their unblemished record intact, given that Derry had struggled.
Everything appeared to be going to plan as they led by five points at half time and though they suffered a major lull in the third quarter to fall two behind, they seemed to have recovered by kicking four on the trot.
A poor turnover led to the concession of a goal in the third minute of injury time however. It was the type of blow that has precipitated a freefall in previous Kildare teams but after getting back on track against Fermanagh, Cian O’Neill’s crew dug deep to emerge successful after titanic tussles against Down and Clare.
“I’m kind of glad we lost that game against Derry the way we did now that we’re qualified because we learned an awful lot from it, just about ourselves, about game management” said Sweeney on the Kfm radio station.
“In the last couple of games we have been in difficult situations and we’ve gotten out of them late on in the game because we were a bit more controlled whereas in the Derry game, we weren’t.”
Sweeney has seen many highs and lows from the time he played in Kildare’s Leinster championship-winning season as a teenager in 2000 to when he ended his county career at the end of 2013.
Since then, he has spent a year with Niall Carew at Waterford and moved west to Sligo with his fellow Kildare man for two terms, before joining up with O’Neill this year, having found the travelling a burden as a family man trying to run his own business.
He welcomes the opportunity of playing at Croke Park that a League final provides, and especially an extra fixture given that Kildare will not have a competitive outing again until facing Laois or Longford in Tullamore in the Leinster quarter-final on June 4.
The break will allow players to return to their clubs, something Sweeney considers of utmost importance.
“The players will go back to their clubs a lot more for the next couple of weeks to play a lot of League games. That’s important too in terms of trying to create leaders. You want them to go back to their clubs and train and lead the fellas who have been so good to them for letting them be away for so long.
“There’s a long break between the League and the Championship but this extra game with the League final will stand to us.”
A lot will happen between now and next year but playing in Division 1, and staying there, is vital to Kildare’s continuing development according to Sweeney. He acknowledges the gaps that exist between the second tier and the top half of the elite level however.
“It’s gonna be a big eye-opener for a whole lot of us I think. We’ve said it all along; Division 1 is probably a couple of steps ahead of where everybody else is at, especially the top four or five teams in that division.
“So it’s gonna be a huge challenge but it’s what we want. It’s why we play the game. We want to win, we want to compete with the best, we want to be up there with the best and hopefully one day be the best. And the only way to do it is to play week-in, week-out against these guys.”