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All Ireland Football Championship: How Kieran McGeeney has made Kildare so much fun to watch

By Micheal McGeary

When Kieran McGeeney was appointed Kildare manager, the expectation was that the new boss would convert the Lily Whites to the Armagh way of football.

But with the Mullaghbawn native it’s always a danger trying to second guess him.

The general perception was that Kildare would become dour and resolute with the emphasis very much on defence.

During their final years, Joe Kernan's Armagh came to epitomise a style of play with the emphasis on the physical.

And their centre half-back seemed the unsmiling personification of these utilitarian virtues.

The prospect of his assuming the reins of a Kildare team who were not notably brimming with the joys of spring wasn’t exactly mouthwatering.

It just goes to show you can never be sure of anything in sport.

Because McGeeney has turned Kildare into the most exciting, stylish and downright attractive team in the country.

The man portrayed as a footballing version of the Grim Reaper, but without the light touch and sparkling sense of humour, has confounded everyone by producing a team which is more fun to watch than any of their rivals.

Last year the Lily Whites served notice of how much they've changed by playing a huge part in the two best games of the championship — their Leinster final loss to Dublin and their All Ireland quarter-final defeat by Tyrone.

And this year they've delivered on the promise of their performances, their scintillating display against Meath only the most obvious demonstration of the virtues which have made them the highest-scoring team in the Championship with an average of almost 19 points per game.

All Ireland finalists Cork, tipped as champions in waiting, are running at under 16 points a match, despite having a pool of outstanding natural attackers McGeeney could only dream of picking from.

Instead, he has achieved something which marks him out as a manager of the very highest quality, coaxing superb performances from players not previously regarded as among the game's elite. The likes of James Kavanagh, Pádraig O'Neill, Eamonn Callaghan, Eoghan O'Flaherty and Alan Smith have all disclosed previously unsuspected depths of talent under the manager’s guidance.

This ability to get the very best out of unregarded players suggests that if McGeeney keeps going at this rate, Gaelic football may have found its Brian Clough.

Most remarkable of all, Kildare's game is founded on a high level of sportsmanship. The Lily Whites committed just 14 fouls against Meath. By comparison, the Dubs perpetrated a cynical 33 against Tyrone. More than anyone else, Kildare are playing the game the way it should be played.

Even their blackest day under McGeeney, this year's first round defeat by Louth, probably occurred because the team erred on the side of swashbuckling.

It was a tough 70 minutes for a Kildare fan but the 1-22 to 1-16 shoot-out was a whole bundle of fun for neutrals.

McGeeney, with former Armagh colleague Aidan O’Rourke alongside, is ratcheting up the football intensity.

He sends forth a side which plays with devil-may-care abandon and a rare sense of joy.

Kieran McGeeney has, against all the odds, become Gaelic football's apostle of positivity.

Belfast Telegraph

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