GAA Football

Kildare to get what they deserve against under-performing Donegal

Allianz Football League Division Two: Donegal v Kildare (tomorrow, 2pm, Ballyshannon)

A LEAGUE table never lies, but nor does it give weight to any expectation.

Donegal and Kildare came down out of Division One last year but both went on to reach the Super 8s, one as Ulster champions and the other as Mayo's conquerors.

They were, on that basis, expected to make the jump straight back up and take the places of Cavan and Roscommon, restoring the world order that suggested there's a defined top eight and then there's the rest.

It hasn't happened that way. They head into the final day with neither guaranteed to go up. Whichever wins tomorrow in Ballyshannon might get promoted and they might not, but it will be one or t'other going up at best.

There are different backdrops now than there were then.

Donegal have played the entire league without Patrick McBrearty, Odhran MacNiallais, Frank McGlynn and Paddy McGrath of the side that started last summer's provincial final. Michael Murphy missed the first four games, and his influence on them has been apparent since.

Despite the introduction of Stephen Rochford as coach, they've struggled for any consistency in terms of performance or setup. Defensively they've been rotating weekly. It would be hard, after six games, to pick any of their six defenders and pinpoint the role they'll occupy in Brewster Park in two months' time.

In attack, they've missed McBrearty hugely. Take the Armagh game, out of which they ended up squeezing by a single point despite having a monopoly on Blaine Hughes' kickouts all night.

It wasn't a night for kicking, granted, but across almost 80 minutes of football, Donegal kicked the ball to their full-forward line just four times.

They utilised it a bit more often down in Páirc Uí Rinn as they hit a season high of 1-19 last weekend, but there has been an element of predictability about their attacking play all season.

There is no exaggeration in arguing that they could well have been coming into this game trying to avoid relegation.

Either side of the consecutive defeats by Tipperary and Fermanagh, they were exceptionally lucky to beat Meath at home, and then held on by that single point against Armagh.

That's the reality of their level of performance so far, but the league table only deals in straight-up numbers.

Those numbers say they could still be in Division One next year and, in the context of it all, that would be a fair achievement.

Kildare's loss of their own powerful number 14 hasn't aided their cause either. Daniel Flynn's decision to opt out this year came as a shock and as the year goes on, they'll find the weight of that grows.

Ben McCormack's put down roots at 14 but didn't play last weekend as they almost threw their hopes away, letting a comfortable lead over Tipperary turn into a desperate scramble for two injury-time scores to win the game again.

After the game, Cian O'Neill did a strange thing. He deflected all and any criticism directly on to his players.

“Very often the whole narrative is about the manager and the backroom team and what they are doing in training but there are times when players need to look at themselves and even though we won that match there still needs to be a lot of deep reflection of how we need to improve,” he said.

They did previously have Meath pinned to the canvas before an injury-time penalty from Barry Dardis saw their top-of-the-table neighbours wriggle free.

And Kildare have gradually been getting stronger as the campaign's gone on. For their opening-day draw with Armagh, they had just five of the side that beat Mayo last summer, compared to 11 of them against Tipperary last weekend.

The exciting Jimmy Hyland's been the one to catch the eye and with Neil Flynn continuing his good scoring form from last year, they've enough of an edge about them up front.

Despite Cian O'Neill's anger last weekend, it's his side that have been playing closer to their potential.

Of the two, it's Kildare that deserve to go back to Division One. And if Meath hold up their end of the bargain, well they might.

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