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Saturday 24 June 2017

'Kildare have physicality and hunger to go toe to toe'

Kildare’s Daniel Flynn takes on Laois’ Denis Booth during last Sunday’s Leinster SFC quarter-final in Tullamore. Pic: Sportsfile
Kildare’s Daniel Flynn takes on Laois’ Denis Booth during last Sunday’s Leinster SFC quarter-final in Tullamore. Pic: Sportsfile

The gaping chasm between Kildare and Laois on Sunday wasn't just manifested on the scoreboard.

It could be seen in their tackling intensity - and the standout statistic that five consecutive Laois attacks, late in the first half, ended in turnovers.

According to selector Enda Murphy, this is a testament to the work done under manager Cian O'Neill over the past 18 months.

Kildare believe they can now match any county in the physical stakes, and they hope to underline that point in what promises to be an intriguing Leinster SFC semi-final date with Meath in Tullamore on Saturday week.

"They've worked really, really hard. Cian, this is his second year in place and you can see the players have physically developed over the last couple of years," Murphy explained.

"And obviously the amount of time that we spent together, even over the last number of weeks since the league ended, where we didn't have a game for eight weeks. We were able to focus on our whole defensive game, and putting those tackles in. It's starting to show.

"And, as well as that, there's huge hunger within the group at this stage. They've had some disappointing defeats, if you look back a couple of years when there was a young team thrown together and they had to take some defeats on the chin … this team is hungry now.

Physically

"We feel that, physically, we're capable of going toe to toe with any team on a given day."

The age profile of the team - including many players heading for their mid-20s - has facilitated this obvious improvement from O'Neill's first season to second.

"It's probably a combination of everything," Murphy reckoned. "There's a lot of guys who were injured last year who are available. Players are a year older and wiser and more experienced as well.

"If look back three or four years, there was a big transition of players at that time. So, young players who were sort of thrown in at the deep end at the time have the benefit of two or three years' experience now.

"And they're starting to gel really, really well as a group. It's a combination of having fellas fit as well as there was a huge amount of underage talent, they just needed to bring it on to the next level - which they've done. They've trained really, really well this year, and it's starting to show in their performances."

But now it starts to get tricky. Bar the first 20-plus minutes, Laois offered negligible resistance. Whereas Meath, despite suffering a 3-17 to 0-16 league pasting from Kildare in early February, are now also on an upward graph under Andy McEntee.

"As the league has gone on, their form has really improved," Murphy cautioned. "Now, to go into their first game and to kick a score like that (0-27 against Louth) is very, very impressive. So the challenge we met at the start of the year is going to be something totally different now.

"Their form has really, really improved. They were obviously only getting together with a new management team, and they look like they're really hitting form at the moment.

Huge

"I think it's going to be a huge game. For both teams there's a huge prize at stake - an opportunity to get into a Leinster final."

Where, for the winners, the near-certainty is that Dublin will await.

"Dublin are the benchmark for every team in the country. But we're striving continuously to try and get to a point where we can go toe to toe with them. And the first thing we need to be able to do is to be able to take them on physically," explained the former Kildare goalkeeper.

"So that's a big part of our preparation, and you can see that it's starting to tell in our performances.

"You need to get that part of your game right, and then if you have that right and you can compete physically with teams, then you need to couple that with intelligence and smart play.

"And we're trying to work on that side of the game as well."

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