All Ireland Semi Final: Down manager James McCartan praises Kildare boss Kieran McGeeney
A firm sporting friendship that has spanned two decades will be put on hold for 70-odd minutes on Sunday week when Down confront Kildare in the second All Ireland football semi-final at Croke Park.
Rival managers James McCartan and Kieran McGeeney were colleagues in the Queen’s University side that tasted success in the Sigerson Cup in the early 90’s and although their paths as inter-county players subsequently only crossed briefly they were to retain a bond that has endured over the years.
But as the duo currently finalise preparations for what could prove a defining game in their managerial careers they will become poles apart in the Headquarters cauldron.
McCartan, who met up with McGeeney just a few days ago in Newry, views the former Armagh All Ireland winning captain as “the most driven man I have ever met.”
McGeeney’s intensity and single-mindedness are of course legendary within the GAA but while McCartan openly admires the Mullaghbawn man’s fiercely committed approach to management he is quick to point out that he also harbours a lighter side.
“I know that Kieran is perceived as very, very focussed and this is absolutely right,” McCartan points out.
“No matter what he does in life he gives it one hundred per cent effort.
“That is particularly evident in the way he has been managing Kildare but obviously I know him quite well and he can be good craic when he loosens up.”
But the Down boss concedes that there will be very little opportunity for craic of any sort between now and Sunday week.
“People are saying that Down have done well to get into the semi-finals but Kieran has had Kildare in the concluding stages of the All Ireland series in each of the last three years,” he added.
“And when you look at the way he has managed his side this year in particular it becomes very evident as to just why they have progressed as they have.”
And he goes on: “This Kildare side now bears little relation to the team that played in the National League.
“In fact, when the team played in the Leinster championship it had been tweaked considerably and then when they began winning winning qualifier matches Kieran tweaked it even more.
“He made further amendments for the quarter-final win and the upshot is that the side is now peaking at just the right time.”
McCartan, in his own first season in charge, even pinpoints areas in which McGeeney’s management skills have had a profound affect on just how Kildare play.
“When they started the Leinster championship Peter Kelly was unheard of but now he’s a fixture in the defence,” observes McCartan.
“James Kavanagh was a half-forward earlier in the qualifiers but when Kieran moved him into the full forward line he became a revelation.”
And although Down beat Kildare in the National League earlier in the year, McCartan emphatically dismisses any notion that this could have the slightest bearing on Sunday week’s game.
“The fitness and conditioning levels that Kildare have been showing lately as well as their skill factor are admirable,” McCartan admitted.
“They may be viewed as slow starters but they have been winning games easing up.
“Their work rate is phenomenal and the commitment they are showing is straight out of Kieran McGeeney’s own personal commitment manual.
“People are rightly talking up Kildare’s credentials — our job will be to prove that our own credentials are even more impressive on the day.”
And when the match is over win, lose or draw it will be time for a chat with his old mate.
“Normal business will then resume — I think,” smiles McCartan.