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How Kieran McGeeney's Small Gestures Inspired The Loyalty Of His Kildare Players

How Kieran McGeeney's Small Gestures Inspired The Loyalty Of His Kildare Players

Kieran McGeeney stepped into Kildare and left a legacy built on a thousand quiet conversations.

Contrary to perception, it wasn't all sound and fury under McGeeney, and the (admittedly caveated) success at Kildare came through a fusion of high standards with loyalty.

John Doyle was considering his inter-county career as McGeeney arrived, and ended up retiring six years later. The levels of professionalism McGeeney brought to the set-up were vital in hoisting the Lilywhites toward the top table, says Doyle, but equally so was the loyalty he inspired in his players to match it. "He'd do lots for every player, even off the pitch with whatever little troubles that they had, he was like a father figure", Doyle tells Balls. "Then, on the pitch, you'd never want to let him down".

Doyle recalls one small instance which shows how this becomes borne out. Ahead of the Leinster final in 2009, Doyle was struggling in training. As captain, he was anxious as to what teammates were doing, and admits to taking his focus off of his own performance. McGeeney noticed, and during training, he took him aside:

He took me aside and said that there's training this weekend, but he didn't want me to go. Instead, he said he had a friend who ran a hotel in Cork. He had booked a room for me and my wife, and told me to go down for a couple of days and have a few pints. I protested a bit, saying 'No, I'll stay', but he insisted.

We went down anyway, had a great time, and it gave me time to clear my head a bit and think on the things that really mattered.

Doyle kicked 0-02 in that final, but Kildare were edged out by Dublin by three points. It became a familiar feeling.

Doyle speaks plainly about "the bottom line": six intense years yielded no silverware. 2010 was a missed opportunity: Kildare were caught by Louth in Leinster, but would have made an All-Ireland final had Benny Coulter's goal been chalked off for a square ball.

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2011 saw a one-point defeat to Dublin in Leinster, and an agonising All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Donegal by the same scoreline. The following year, Meath nudged them out of the Leinster championship, but again Kildare recovered to return to Croke Park, this time beaten by Cork in a quarter-final. In what proved to be McGeeney's final championship in charge, Kildare lost heavily to Jim Gavin's Dubs and, for the first time, failed to make it through the qualifiers.

On reflection, Doyle bluntly says that the players let McGeeney down. That kind of honesty was incubated in McGeeney's Kildare, as it was the quality he demanded the most.

 If you went against the rules, he would just demand you stand up in front of him and say, 'Look, I had a few pints or whatever when I wasn't supposed to', that sort of thing.

McGeeney would always demand more of every player, Doyle included, but would respond with his own methods of getting more out of players. One of these included training in Friday evenings with John Kavanagh in an octagon in Straight Blast Gym. While a couple of players sparred with Conor McGregor, everyone spent time grappling:

You'd be put in a headlock and you'd be told not to waste energy trying to get out of it. Instead, you had to think your way out of it. It was all about learning to think clearly under pressure. Some people in Kildare used to say that 'Oh, he has them in headlocks on the Long Mile Road while they can't kick the ball over the bar', but that's nonsense.

Kieran was always coming at things from a different angle, just to get an edge. He was great at thinking outside of the box.

McGeeney's reign may not have yielded a Leinster senior title, but it did at Under-21 level: Kildare beat Longford in the 2013 final, a side featuring Paddy Brophy, Niall Kelly, and Daniel Flynn. All owe him their senior careers, and are among twelve players on this weekend's Kildare panel who were handed their debuts by McGeeney.

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Few wanted to see McGeeney's reign end in 2013, either. Daniel Flynn tweeted upon confirmation that he had been narrowly ousted by a club vote:

Absolutely sick! Joke that people who haven't got a clue about what goes on behind the scenes have an input atal, let alone the final say!

McGeeney hasn't been on a Kildare sideline in four years, but his term still exerts an influence: Doyle says that the culture and professionalism curated by McGeeney - and maintained by Jason Ryan and Cian O'Neill - has been vital in the development of Kildare's young players.

Irony abounds at the elision of time and ambition in the GAA, so now McGeeney must plot the downfall of the players he has helped to nurture, while Flynn et al must dedicate an evening to disappointing their former mentor.

Kieran McGeeney did not leave a Leinster title in Kildare, but he left plenty else. He introduced a talented group of players to a professional environment in which they can thrive, and above all else, he left some very real connections.

Last winter, the father of Padraig Fogarty - a member of the 2013 Under-21 team coached by McGeeney - passed away. McGeeney got into his car in Armagh, drove down to the wake, quietly paid his respects, stayed for a cup of tea and a chat, and drove home.

So when the shouting is done at Croke Park on Saturday evening, and the dust settles on Championship 2017, the echoes of Kieran McGeeney's quiet conversations will continue to be heard in Kildare, and beyond.

See Also: Chaos In Longford As 40-Person Brawl Involving Players, Coaches And Supporters Erupts In Championship Clash

Gavin Cooney
Article written by
Changed the spelling of his name upon pressure from Michael Owen.

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