Paul Curran: Kildare will test kingdom
IT has been a tough few weeks for Cork footballers.
Three weeks ago they were seconds away from winning the Munster championship in Killarney but a controversial penalty decision and a Fionn Fitzgerald point in injury-time denied them a victory that they would have thoroughly deserved.
They should have recorded their first SFC win over Kerry in Killarney for 20 years and would have propelled them into the All-Ireland Series with huge confidence and self-belief.
With Páirc Uí Chaoimh out of commission the replay was fixed for Killarney again and in hindsight Cork really should have looked for the game to be played six or seven days after the drawn game because it would have given the loser (ultimately Cork) two weeks to prepare for the qualifier against Kildare.
I understand the fixture setting may well have been out of their control and that they would have been fairly confident of getting a win the second time around but Kerry were able to tweak a few things and were far more organised the second day.
Cork on the other hand were flat and the defeat would have hurt. The real problem of course lay just six days ahead and how many times have we seen the six-day turnaround working against the team coming off a defeat.
This was the perfect game for Kildare and their defeat by Dublin is now a distant memory as they continue to build momentum through the qualifiers. They are the one county that has consistently performed when beaten in their provincial championship and that suggests that there is a very good attitude amongst the players.
Yesterday they were by a distance the better team and their attacking approach had Cork on the back foot right from the throw-in. Everything worked very well for them in terms of their defensive set-up, midfield play and their movement up front had their opponents in all sorts of trouble.
I don't remember a Kildare team who look as composed and calm in front of goal and a goal and 21 points is a massive tally against one of the top six teams in the country.
That said there were some bad wides and at times players in goal-scoring positions were not given the pass but some tidying up work in this area will make them a tough nut to crack.
Cork on the other hand made it quite easy for the Kildare forwards with some of the worst defending I have seen from any team this season. The tactic of using arguably their best forward as a sweeper simply hasn't worked and again yesterday Paul Kerrigan was anonymous for most of the opening half.
A good sweeper gets on a lot of ball and is able to turn defence into attack but Kildare bypassed Kerrigan with an exhibition of foot passing into the full-forward line and became a spectator before being pushed further up the field five minutes before half-time.
The damage had been done at that stage with Kildare leading by three points and were able to push on and close out the half leading by a very healthy six points.
Cork needed to come out fighting and get the scoreboard ticking and in fairness to them they attacked from the restart.
A Mark Collins point was shortly followed by a great goal chance that would have cut the gap to just two but the chance was fluffed and Kildare were off the hook. The game ended as a contest a couple of minutes later when Niall Kelly finished to the net with a sublime finish from a young man who had a terrific game.
Paul Cribben got the man of the match award and he probably just about shaded Kelly for the crystal. He has the athleticism and the stamina to get around the field and will be a handful for any opponent.
His next opponent is from Kerry of course, and that is a game that I am looking forward to watching next Sunday. Kildare in this form are going to be difficult to stop but they are coming up a different animal now.
Kerry will be cranking it up from here on in and have the forwards to hurt you. They have a very solid midfield but defensively there are still questions to be answered. I think this Kildare forward line could do damage if they get the supply they got on Saturday evening.
It is going to be a fascinating contest and I wouldn't be surprised if Kildare go very close. The fact they game is in Croke Park will not faze the Lilywhites.
The other confirmed quarter-final sees Fermanagh coming to the capital to face the Dubs in what should be another great occasion. Fermanagh have done extremely well to get this far in the competition and will relish the opportunity of playing one of the best teams in the country on their home patch.
It is a daunting task but Pete McGrath will arrive with a game-plan and if his charges can execute that game-plan they will make a game of it.
On Saturday they had a very good win over Westmeath who were missing their best player John Heslin. It took them a long time to settle into the game but a purple patch just before the break seemed to give them the confidence to come out in the second half and go after the win.
Dublin will need to find a decent performance for their confidence ahead of the semi-final. It has been a ridiculously easy run to this point which can work against you when you finally meet a team of real quality.
Dublin, however, are on their guard this year and just need to pick the games off one by one from here on in.