Thursday 27 October 2016

Dublin won't relent on the Lilies

Kildare's revival cannot close the chasm


(Croke Park, Tom 4.0, Live RTÉ 2)

IF you were in the business of concocting the perfect PR pitch for tomorrow's main event at GAA headquarters, you might try the following ...

"The moment of truth has arrived between Leinster's two most consistent performers over the past decade.

"Qualifier specialists Kildare will be hoping, for once, to blaze a trail through the front door by toppling the swashbuckling Dubs, and maybe this time the tide has turned in their favour.

"They've had two summer run-outs compared to just one meaningless minnow mauling for Dublin.

"And how about this statistical gem: the rejuvenated Lilies have just blitzed Laois by 13 points - two more than Dublin managed against the same county last summer."

Convinced by this marketing wheeze? Didn't think so.


Bar the obvious caveats about two-horse races having the perennial potential to shock, there are no logical reasons to suggest Kildare will do the unthinkable here.

This is not meant as a slight on Jason Ryan's men, just a statement of the realities that pertain in Leinster, especially since Jim Gavin took control of the Donnycarney cockpit.

Almost invariably, the winning margin reaches into double figures. In only one of Gavin's seven previous provincial fixtures has the opposition kept it 'relatively' close (Meath lost the 2013 Leinster final by seven points). Dublin's number of choice appears to be 16 - this was the exact margin against Wexford and Meath last summer, Westmeath and Kildare the season before.

That 2013 Leinster landslide materialised in the last weeks of the Kieran McGeeney era. It scarcely constituted a shock, given that Dublin had brushed aside the wilting Lilies with contemptuous ease in the league a few months earlier, winning by 13.

Last year, having stepped up from coach/selector to main man, Ryan faced Dublin in the league and suffered a ten-point defeat. At least the margin was narrowing, but scarcely with sufficient speed.


Moreover, since then, Kildare have endured back-to-back relegations with the result that the grim scenario of Division Three beckons next February.

This helps to explain why there were so many doubts - from neutrals and nervous partisans alike - in the lead-up to their SFC opener against Laois.

That was three weeks ago. Today, it's fair to surmise, Kildare are in a better place. They know more about themselves.

They've banished the memories of a ghoulish league and restored some confidence. They've even recovered some long-lost momentum.

Enough to close the chasm? That's a different story.

Still, the two-game saga with Laois was certainly beneficial on several fronts. The previously injury-stricken Eoin Doyle, Tommy Moolick and Niall Kelly have all got invaluable game-time off the bench - not once but twice.

A fully-fit Doyle would normally be viewed as a certain starter, so his half-back return for the injured Fergal Conway will not necessarily weaken the team.

Conway, for the record, underwent eye socket surgery on Thursday, the consequence of that heavy bang shipped in the Laois replay, and is facing a three to four-week lay-off.

Otherwise the team is unchanged - hardly a surprise given the soaring performance levels of the team during their third-quarter blitz of an unravelling Laois.

For Ryan, though, arguably the biggest replay lesson came in the opening quarter.

Kildare initially set up in man-for-man fashion and it could have been fatal, if Laois had converted Ross Munnelly's penalty and another glorious goal chance for Brendan Quigley.

They got away with it. Gary White switched from orthodox midfield into more of a sweeper role, other bodies channelled back to clog up the space for Donie Kingston & Co, and belatedly Kildare began to motor.


Put bluntly, going toe-to-toe with Dublin would constitute footballing suicide ... but we'd be amazed if Kildare attempt such a tactical folly. Look what happened Longford.

Yet, even if Kildare score top marks with their tactics and match-ups, the likelihood is that Dublin will still possess too much power in the tackle, pace just about everywhere, ball-winning options around midfield, firepower in attack and gilt-edged alternatives on the bench.

To suggest Dublin are now invincible in an All-Ireland context would be foolhardy, but this is what they have become in Leinster.

Some day, presumably, they will endure one of those God-awful days where individual form implodes, a collective malaise sets in and underdogs - playing at the zenith of their powers - go the jugular.

There is no evidence to suggest that day is near.

Indeed, even though Longford offered zero challenge, Dublin's intensity levels, sharpness of movement and chance conversion ratio were all of an impressively high order.

They didn't look like a team that will succumb to complacency, and we can't see that happening here either.

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Dublin 1/33, Draw 33/1, Kildare 10/1


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