Monday 24 October 2016

Coman Goggins: Lilies lacking firepower of Blue Army

Stephen Cluxton
Stephen Cluxton

DOESN'T time fly? As Dublin and Kildare get set to do battle this Sunday in their Leinster semi-final I couldn't help but be dragged back to the Leinster final of 2000, and to the last time the Lilywhites managed a championship win against the Dubs.

A late Colin Moran score secured a 0-14 points apiece draw at a time when masse defending was but a twinkle in some managers' eye. With appetites whetted a replay was eagerly anticipated, but a blistering first half had us leading by six points, and had some Kildare fans heading for the exits as Pat McEnaney whistled for half-time.

The heat of the day and the pace in our opening half display had my head spinning as I headed for the dressingroom under the Cusack Stand, and as then manager Tommy Carr proceeded to give a measured team talk on an anticipated Kildare response, I recall been stripped down to the waist with my head stuck under a cold shower.

If the shower hadn't shocked me to my senses, then Kildare's two-goal salvo at the beginning of the second period certainly did, as our opening half dominance was wiped out in the blink of an eye as first Dermot Earley and then Tadhg Fennin rattled balls past Dublin's current goal-keeping coach Davy Byrne.


Buoyed by their goals Kildare never let up, and our inability to regain our composure, represented by the fact that we managed only a solitary score throughout the second half, secured Kildare's second provincial title in three years.

Roll the clock forward 15 years, and it's hard to have anywhere near the same level enthusiasm for this weekend's encounter, as Dublin's powerful consistency in the province as opposed to Kildare's freefall to Division 3 appears to represent a total mismatch in capabilities.

Add into the mix the fact that two years ago when these sides last met in the championship Dublin ran out 16-point winners, and you get a sense that it will take something special to even put the Dubs off their rhythm, let alone for Kildare to reach a first Leinster decider since 2009.

However, there are positives for the Lilywhites, their replay victory over Laois was a massive fill-up. Under pressure going into the drawn game, Jason Ryan must have been delighted with his side's resolve, and the fact that they have two competitive games under their belt will certainly have them at championship tempo on Sunday.

But perhaps a bigger positive and where the opportunity to strike at Dublin best rests is represented in the considerable change in personnel from two years ago. I make it that there are only four survivors from that 2013 starting line-up that started in their quarter-final replay against Laois, and only one of them, Emmet Bolton, will most likely line out in the same starting positon, his customary wing-back spot.

In recent years the attribute that Kildare football has been sorely missing, particularly in defensive formations, has been pace, but a more youthful spread across the team offers hope that they can put pressure on Dublin's kickouts and also have enough legs to get back and help out defensively.

Since Jim Gavin's arrival on the Dublin sideline breaking down a packed defensive shield has proven the teams Achilles heel.

During his time managing Wexford, Ryan came close a couple of times to turning over the Dubs by employing a solid defensive cordon. But unless this is something that has been coached consistently with his players ahead of this encounter, and more importantly understood and acted upon by everyone in the group, the risk is that holes will develop, and there is no better team than Dublin to punish them.

Over the last couple of weekends courtesy of the likes of Paddy McBrearty (Donegal), Colm Cooper (Kerry), Cillian O'Connor (Mayo) and Conor McManus (Monaghan) we have been reminded of the key difference between the top teams and the chasing pack - attacking prowess.

Dublin scored 4-25 in their championship opener against Longford, in which each of the starting forwards put their name on the scoresheet. It is a stark warning to Ryan and his troops of the fluidity of this Dublin attack, and while a doubt hangs over the availability of Bernard Brogan there is ample talent in reserve to form a fairly potent inside line.

While all the signs back up the bookies' view that the Dubs are red-hot favourites to nail down a spot in a fifth consecutive Leinster final, Kildare can get under Dublin's skin if they can force Stephen Cluxton to kick long and compete on the floor for breaking ball.

However, where I fear they'll come up short even if they do manage to secure a greater percentage of possession is up front, where their attacking options pale in significance to Dublin's superior firepower.



Perhaps where the opportunity to strike at Dublin best rests is

represented in the considerable change in

personnel from two years ago

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