LOOKING at their respective Allianz National Hurling League records, you would think that Kildare will have little trouble in overcoming Mayo in the first round of the Christy Ring Cup on Saturday but Paul Divilly has been around for too long to believe that to be the case.
Only for a Carlow snatching a last gasp draw in Newbridge, Kildare may very well have competed in a Division 2A final, while Mayo only avoided relegation from Division 2B by winning a play off against Roscommon. Nevertheless, Mayo have caused Kildare problems before and Divilly insists that the team will be taking nothing for granted.
“We never have it easy against Mayo are going in under no illusions about the threat that they pose,” said Divilly.
“Two years we found ourselves nine or ten points down at half time and were lucky to come out with a victory. In 2009, I played a game in Athleague and they turned us over. Mayo, particularly at this time of year, are a tough challenge. We’ll really have to be on top of our game to ensure that we get the victory. We’re definitely primed and ready, it’s going to be a massive challenge to win,” he added.
The late change to venue and throw in time, that means the game will now be played in Ballina at 3pm, won’t change Kildare’s plans either.
“We’re just told where to be and we just look after our side of the preparation. It wouldn’t interfere with us. We are going up the night before. Preparations and what we’ve been provided with all year have been next to none so there are no worries on that side of things. We’ll be well prepared and be there in good time. It doesn’t really matter where it’s on, a pitch is a pitch,” said Divilly.
There is a steely determination within the Kildare camp to build on their excellent league season and repeat their 2014 feat of winning out the Christy Ring. From the outside, many would think that after narrowly avoiding relegation from Division 2B last year that the team would be glad to go so close to a surprise league final place but instead, there is a frustration that the team couldn’t make the most of their opportunity.
“There were opportunities to beat Antrim, although they could argue they had more opportunities to see us off themselves, but really the one I felt was the Carlow game, looking back that was definitely one we should have saw out. That could have brought us to a league final. The opposite to that is that we probably caught Westmeath on an off day. We have to be happy with what we got and it shows where we want to go and where the lads are bringing us that we are striving to get into these league finals, and to look up the table rather hoping for safety. Happy and frustrated with the league really, which is not a bad place to be going into the Championship.
“We wouldn’t see much of a difference in the performances from game to game but there is a skill and a knack of coming out on the right side of the result, seeing a game out, getting a score when it’s required or winning a ball after conceding a score. Hopefully we have taken a few step forward towards getting the results that are required,” said Divilly.
Now in the second year under the management of Joe Quaid, Divilly feels that lessons have been learned, from the players and management, and that they are in a better place to succeed this year. Kildare have had to do without their star player this year, Gerry Keegan who is travelling this year, but that has given younger players the chance to step up in his absence.
“There is the unique nature of The Christy Ring, it’s such a condensed, tight, competition. It’s great that the management have the experience of it now, they know what they are getting into now whereas possibly last year there was kind of a bedding in period. Other than that, the preparations and how they get us ready for teams is second to none really. They do their review and critique on who we are playing and how we want to play by doing what we are doing well and what we need to improve on. They try to apply that to the training session then and really that’s all you can ask of a management team, it’s down to the players after that.
“There are still a lot of younger lads, or lads with not as much experience. Being in 2A and the competition we are getting in there, playing Liam McCarthy team, it’s definitely where we want to be and we want to progress further. We just have to constantly learn what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong. Win or loss, there is always something to learn from the game. That’s definitely something that the management team have been applying to us over the last two years.
The Kildare hurlers are not the only intercounty side in action this week. Gay Campbell leads the minor footballers into Leinster action for the first time on Saturday when they begin their quest for a third title in a row at minor level away to Carlow at 1pm.
Also on Saturday, the Kildare minor camogie team play in the All-Ireland ‘B’ final against Antrim at 2pm in Iniskeen, Monaghan.