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Thursday 8 December 2016

Curve Ball: All-Leinster All-Ireland? You'll have to be patient

Ger Egan in action against Jack McCaffery
Ger Egan in action against Jack McCaffery

FIVE years ago, this is how close we came to something that has never happened: five minutes plus the width of one crossbar.

That was the summer that promised to give us the first all-Leinster All-Ireland football final ... until Dublin lost their semi-final duel with Cork by 1-15 to 1-14.

And yet they had led from pillar almost to post, with just five minutes left (stoppage-time included) when the revitalised Rebels finally drew level.

A week later, Kildare lost to Down by 1-16 to 1-14 ... but only after Rob Kelly's thunderbolt free was deflected onto his crossbar by Kalum King in the dying seconds of injury-time.

So instead of having two Leinster protagonists squaring up in September, we had none. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Given what has happened in the province since 2010 - Dublin accelerating further away while everyone else stays static or worse - it's credible to wonder if that tantalising September scenario will ever materialise. Except, of course, it could still happen this year. In theory!

INTRIGUING

Kildare face Kerry in the opening All-Ireland quarter-final on Sunday, as the arguably more intriguing curtain-raiser to Dublin/Fermanagh: the winners of both will not meet in the semis.

Kerry are 1/6 favourites - as befits defending champions against back-door opposition heading for Division Three - but there remains a small morsel of doubt about whether they might just be vulnerable.

Remember 2010, when Kerry were also holders and Munster champions ... and ambled straight into a Down ambush?

This is what tends to happen two-in-a-row contenders: they run out of energy or appetite or ideas or motivation, or all of the above, just when you don't expect it.

Still, the suspicion must be that Kerry will have enough smarts on the day, especially now that they've been forewarned by Kildare's surprise demolition of Cork.

DEBACLE

At this juncture Jason Ryan deserves real kudos for rescuing Kildare's season (and maybe his own tenure) after the debacle that was their Leinster semi-final against Dublin. Ditto his players: they have shown guts and application in equal measure.

This has been a recurring Kildare trait during the reigns of Ryan and especially Kieran McGeeney: sheer bounce-back-ability. Yet the question remains: how close are they, or any other Leinster wannabe bar Dublin, from seriously chasing Sam?

Back in 2010, the All-Ireland field was never so open: all four semi-finalists had emerged through the 'back door', beating provincial winners en route. Over the next four championships, just one team came through the qualifiers to reach a semi-final - Tyrone in 2013, toppling new Ulster champions Monaghan at the last-eight stage.

In other words, 15 out of 16 provincial champions have won their quarter-finals. That puts the challenge facing Kildare - and especially Fermanagh - into stark perspective.

 

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