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Tuesday 25 July 2017

'The only result we can set ourselves up for is a win' - Kelly

A good start is essential for Lilies says Athy playmaker

Niall Kelly at Kildare’s recent Media Day at the Osprey Hotel, Naas. Photo: Sportsfile
Niall Kelly at Kildare’s recent Media Day at the Osprey Hotel, Naas. Photo: Sportsfile

For Kildare this week, it's vital to strike a balance between expectation and realism.

No team ever upset the sort of odds Kildare are facing without first fully believing in advance it was possible.

So when Niall Kelly is asked whether there's any outcome other than a win that Kildare could come to reflect upon with any degree of satisfaction, he is straight-up about it.

"I don't think so, no, to be honest.

"People outside the group may feel us losing by a few points would be a good result, but to us we may never get back to a Leinster final again," he explains.

"Who knows? It could be another eight years and a lot of our team would be gone.

"The only result we can set ourselves up for is a win, like, and we just have to work towards that.

"Expectation is always high in Kildare," the Athy man points out, "and a lot of people wouldn't be happy with anything less than a win and that's completely understandable, and we're exactly the same.

Big shift

"We have to focus on a win and whatever comes with it and we know it's going to be a big shift that will win the game. That's where our heads are at."

Yet Kildare's playmaker is also fully aware of the range of dark possibilities that come with playing Dublin at this time of year.

He came on as a substitute in the 2015 Championship meeting between the teams when Dublin won by 19 points and thus knows the feeling of isolation that can take hold in such bleak circumstances.

"It can tend to be a very lonely place," he notes.

"There might be 50,000 or 60,000 at it but you can be very lonely on the pitch. A good early start is important against a team like Dublin who are clinical and ruthless at the best of times.

"That's up to us to ensure we start quick."

Kelly is the poster boy of a particular talented batch of Kildare footballers.

And his evolution, along with the returns of Kevin Feely, Daniel Flynn and Paddy Brophy from professional sporting careers, has elevated the native hope that the county is coming again as a force.

Cian O'Neill was seen as the ideal appointment too, home-grown yet bursting with coaching experience from All-Ireland winning teams in both codes.

Promotion only fed the expectation and the nature of their victory over Meath has resulted in football captivating the entire county again for the first time since Kieran McGeeney's team threatened the latter stages of the championship in 2010.

"There's always a level of expectation in Kildare and they do expect Kildare to do well any given year but people will have seen how dominant Dublin have been over the last number of years and what they can do to teams," Kelly is at pains to point out.

"So there is a realism there that if we're not up to scratch we could be Westmeath.

"That's out of people's hands so it's up to us to do as much work as we can so that we're not going to be put in that position and that we're in a position to win the game.

"We're under no illusions about what Dublin can bring and what they will bring," he continues.

"We know their performance is going to be up to a level that we haven't faced this year and probably in the last few years.

"We have full confidence in Cian (O'Neill) and the lads to have us in a place that we're ready mentally and physically to deal with what they're going to bring.

"We don't think it's a foregone conclusion by any means, but we know what they can bring so we have to try and bring more.

"It was great after the Meath game to feel that because it's been awhile since it happened in Kildare. It's up to us now to get our feet back on the ground and the Dublin-Westmeath game has probably done that."

It has been a historically spicy rivalry but Dublin's recent dominance hasn't done anything to encourage Kildare.

When Dublin arrived in Newbridge as newly-crowned All-Ireland champions for the 2012 O'Byrne Cup match between the two, Eoghan O'Flaherty and Paul Brogan were sent off.

Michael Darragh Macauley was taken off for his own good after a yellow card and a couple of close calls.

Yet the way Kelly sees it, Dublin are the biggest scalp out there.

A Leinster title is a prize no-one in the current Lilywhite's squad possesses.

No amount of local antipathy is more important than the tangibles at stake.

"There would never be that element of hatred towards any team," he says.

"I think that's a bit of a myth that maybe was there a few years ago.

"Like, there is just a rivalry between Kildare and Dublin there that has always been there.

"It still remains but I think everything has gone a bit more professional than that old school rivalry and that being the main motivation."

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