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Tuesday 19 September 2017

Ciarán closing in on becoming complete modern player

Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

You couldn't quite justify calling it a rivalry during my career but a couple of the games we played against Kildare still stand out for me.

The 2002 Leinster SFC final was special for a number of reasons.

Your championship debut, your first goal, your first Leinster title, your first All-Ireland - they're all moments that stick in the mind of any footballer

And that day I ticked two of those off the checklist.

We were a young team then and weren't quite sure what we were capable of.

Alan and Collie Moran celebrating his goal against Kildare in the 2002 Leinster SFC final.
Pic: Sportsfile.
Alan and Collie Moran celebrating his goal against Kildare in the 2002 Leinster SFC final. Pic: Sportsfile.

Tommy Lyons had introduced a lot of new faces. Combined with some of the old guard, we won a first Leinster title in seven years.

I also scored my first championship goal into the Hill 16 end, something many young Dubs dream of.

Hysterical

In those days, celebrating goals was par for the course and looking back, I made the most of it into a hysterical Hill 16.

Man, did I enjoy that.

I can still see it now.

Johnny McNally dropped a '45' short and Ray Cosgrove palmed it down into my arms.

I sidestepped Dermot Earley and put one into the right corner of the net past Enda Murphy.

A few years later, 'Pillar' Caffrey and his wife Yvonne gave me a present of a framed picture of my celebration into Hill 16 with a caption attached, so the memory is still vivid in my home today.

Given all he had achieved beforehand, I'm not sure Ciarán Kilkenny's first Championship goal two weeks ago against Westmeath will evoke the same memories for him but nonetheless, it was good to see him finally stick one in the back of the net.

I sent Ciarán a message afterwards slagging him that it was time enough the goal arrived, all in jest.

We both know it's medals in the back pockets that count and not the goals you score.

I saw at close quarters in the club championship back in May how Ciarán can be very direct when he has goal on his mind.

As an underage footballer, he was a clinical and prolific scorer of goals.

That aspect of his play has abated a bit due to the way the game at senior inter-county level has developed and the manner in which his role has evolved but it's something I'd love to see a bit more from him.

We saw in that Westmeath game that when he got the opportunity to take on his man, he didn't need asking twice.

Occasionally, Ciarán has passed up those same type of opportunities.

He's been happy enough to take the point or lay it off but maybe it's something he's a little bit more conscious of now.

Already, he's one of the best footballers in the country but that's an area of his game I think he can go on to develop and if he adds a goal threat to his repertoire, he can becom e one of the best Dublin footballers of all time.

My first goal was in totally different circumstances.

We got two in quick succession that day to bury Kildare and land our firs t Leinster title in seven years.

The lads on Sunday are going for their record seventh in-a-row.

Different worlds

The other match against Kildare that sticks out for me was the 2011 Leinster semi-final, when Bernard got that dubious free in the last minute.

Kieran McGeeney came out quite strongly about it afterwards and many Dublin supporters still remember Kevin McStay's television commentary questioning Cormac Reilly's decision but I actually thought at the time that it was a free.

I remember seeing a little pull on Bernard from Andriú Mac Lochlainn and thinking at the time - free.

Eamonn Callaghan, who will play some role for Kildare this coming Sunday, was at the peak of his powers then and scored 1-1 for them to level it up for them late on.

We went on to win the All-Ireland that year but we only snuck over Kildare in a Leinster semi-final with a last-minute, debatable free.

Imagine we'd drawn or went on to lose that game or a replay? What would have become of our All-Ireland win in 2011?

It's impossible to predict if we'd have gone all the way through the qualifiers so it just shows how great things can come from small twists of fate.

Looking into this weekend, there has been a lot of talk about Kildare being better built to withstand Dublin than any team in Leinster for a while and rightly so.

They probably have a better selection of players now than they did in 2010, when they should have made an All-Ireland final.

They'll come in numbers and they'll come in hope but they'll also see a different sort of game from their team to the side they used to hammer Meath in Tullamore.

That's an unavoidable consequence of playing Dublin.

I think naturally, Cian O'Neill would prefer his team to play on the front foot and historically, that's the style that Kildare supporters will recognise most but it's vital for their ability to make a game of it on Sunday that he makes some allowances.

Not just early on, but all through the first half and even for the first 15 or 20 minutes of the second half.

Kildare need to keep this one as tight as possible. Mark men, clog space, track runners.

One problem with defending in big numbers against Dublin is that they'll push right up for kick-outs.

So it's important here that Mark Donnellan doesn't try and be too smart with his deliveries.

If Dublin have their press set up, the logical thing to do is to kick it as far and as long over the horizon as humanly possible and alleviate pressure.

Kildare have enough big men around the middle to take anybody on and if Kevin Feely or Tommy Moolick win ball cleanly and the majority of Dublin's players are taken out of the game with a long kick-out, they also have the forwards to make something happen with early ball and a bit of space.

At the same time though, Dublin can overwhelm any team and I wouldn't rule that out either.

They can pen you into your own half, score a couple of quick goals and all that pressure becomes demoralising.

But this has the makings of an interesting game. The match-ups are good.

Kildare have plenty of quality but they've yet to play a Division 1 team this year so we've no idea how good they really are against a top level side.

Best case scenario here is they make Dublin win the game. That they give them nothing easy.

The Leinster Championship needs a shot in the arm from this Kildare team.

There's been far too many turkeys shot in this competition over the last seven years.

But ultimately, even if Kildare keep it tight coming down the stretch, Dublin still have the experienced match-winners on their bench to do the necessary.

One problem with defending in big numbers against Dublin is that they'll push right up for kick-outs.

Dublin can pen you in, score a couple of quick goals and that pressure becomes demoralising.

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