A late flurry of scores saw Kildare claim the Division 2 crown from Tyrone on Sunday in Croke Park. Emmet Ryan analyses how the Lilywhites turned a tactical stalemate to their advantage as the game wore on.
The struggle of similarity
Kildare’s evolution under Kieran McGeeney has seen the Lilywhites move closer in style to the game played by Tyrone. Having started out with a largely conventional approach under McGeeney, Kildare has moved from using a sweeper system to effectively playing the same kind of swarm defence used by Mickey Harte’s men. This resulted in an interesting test on Sunday as effectively it was two teams using the same format with execution the only area where an edge could be gained. Both sides placed a heavy emphasis on developing possession from the back, with neither in much of rush to clear their lines. Fouling high outfield was also an important element, reducing the opportunity for opposing attacks to develop inside. Tactically speaking this was a stalemate but Kildare found a way to gain a slight edge in the first half.
Playing into the wind, the Lilywhites eventually won the territorial battle over the opening 35 minutes. With possession gradually moving up towards the Hill 16 end, Kildare were able to press Tyrone’s backs in possession. This made maintaining possession difficult for Mickey Harte’s men and they struggled to maintain their shape at the back. While scoring is a concern for Kildare, there wasn’t as much pressure on McGeeney’s men to put up a gaudy tally in the opening period. Keeping the game close in such conditions would suffice and they managed that comfortably. Tomás O’Connor proved particularly effective as Kildare’s territorial advantage became apparent. O’Connor set up James Kavanagh for a score on 19 minutes and won a free in front of the posts that Mikey Conway converted on 29 minutes. O’Connor’s size would prove telling again as he forced Aidan McCrory* to put the ball over his own bar in order to prevent a goal.
*McCrory suffered a nasty injury on the way down but fortunately was well enough to take the team bus home afterwards.
Tyrone forced to work for lead
The theme for Tyrone’s attack for most of the game was one of arduous effort with little reward. The early going saw three scores picked up without much difficulty but the final hour of action would put drain Harte’s charges. Niall McKenna’s score on 15 minutes was a sign of things to come. His well-taken point from 30 metres out came after many failures by Tyrone’s attack to break through the Kildare defence. Despite the wind Tyrone’s long-range shooting was largely ineffective, forcing them to work the ball inside. This limited quality chances although a ball over the top from Eoin Mulligan to Stephen O’Neill nearly gave them a goal going in to the break.
Instead Tyrone came out a point down at the start of the second half. Harte’s men dominated the opening 20 minutes after the break but failed to turn that advantage into a significant cushion. With the conditions against them, Tyrone ground out a two-point lead. The pace of scoring however was slowing and there was no one area on the field where Harte’s side were in position to make additional gains. As it was it would be Kildare who stepped up their game in the closing stages.
Substitutions swing it for Kildare
Trailing by a point with 10 minutes to play, Kildare stepped on the gas up front down the stretch. Substitute Padraig Fogarty added 0-3 from play in his 20 minute stint and won a free in front of goal on 69 minutes, which Conway once again converted. The switch of Fogarty for Alan Smith added a dose of energy to Kildare’s attack and their quality of distribution improved substantially in the latter stages. Eamonn Callaghan’s score on 64 minutes came after Eoghan O’Flaherty passed a free back to Morgan O’Flaherty who in turn put Callaghan in space to shoot from distance in front of the posts. The elements played heavily in the Lilywhites’ favour during the second half albeit more so from place balls. Eoghan O’Flaherty nailed a 45 on 49 minutes and Johnny Doyle scored from a sideline ball on 66 minutes. This combination of greater depth on the bench and superior distance shooting proved sufficient to put a substantial gap between the sides at full time.
Tyrone’s options in this game were limited and that eventually resulted in their challenge petering out late on. Tactically their game is so similar to Kildare’s that they needed everything to go right when they had the wind in the first half. Instead the movement up front was stunted, largely by Kildare’s defence but also in part due to some sloppy turnovers. This gave Kildare the impetus to press down-field and ask questions of Tyrone’s backs in possession. There are enough talented defensive outfits in Ulster to punish such an approach in the summer and tighter distribution will be needed for Tyrone to progress.
Claiming a piece of silverware will give a big mental boost to Kildare but the questions about their ability to create scores remain. The 0-16 tally was, it should be noted, the second highest of the eight teams that played over the weekend in Croke Park. This was a game where Kildare were not under pressure to score in bunches but when they had the opportunity to do so, they still had room for improvement. The Lilywhites however look more capable of pressuring defences than they did a year ago and if they keep that up, they should win more frees in scoring range.
Follow Emmet Ryan on Twitter.