Monday 18 December 2017

Blooming Lilywhites can slap away Red Hand

IT may be the curtain-raiser but this evening's Croke Park appetiser has the potential to be every bit as intriguing as the main course.

Both Kildare and Tyrone come to town with something to prove. They also come with more convincing January form than, say, Dublin or Kerry (who have no discernible form at all given their absence from the McGrath Cup).

But for last weekend's intervention of the weather gods, the likelihood is that Kildare would now be O'Byrne Cup champions.

Fitness caught the eye during their clearcut victories over DIT, Offaly and Dublin, and they looked reasonably sharp too, with the obvious caveat about some typically misdirected shooting against the Dubs.

Suffice to say, Kildare carried the gait of men on a mission, determined to right the wrongs of another heartbreaking championship exit just as the All-Ireland dream was starting to loom large.

That mission, presumably, will start with a concerted assault on promotion. The Lilies have been stuck in Division Two for longer than is deemed healthy if you're an aspiring Sam Maguire contender.

While long-term absentees like Dermot Earley and Hughie Lynch remain several weeks off a return to full training, their injury situation looks far healthier than last season. If it stays that way, with or without Seánie Johnston, they shouldn't be too far away.

Kieran McGeeney has kept faith with the starting 15 who clipped Dublin's wings two weeks ago, as opposed to the radically changed team selected for the postponed O'Byrne decider against DCU. That means no Johnny Doyle, barring any 11th-hour changes.

Geezer's men will get nothing easy, if we're to judge from Tyrone's impressive run of form in claiming the McKenna Cup.

Mickey Harte's first priority will be to exorcise the demons of their last Croke Park appearance, against a rampant Dublin, and Tyrone fans with happier memories of HQ will relish the inclusion of Owen Mulligan and Stephen O'Neill in their inside attack. But their hand is weakened by the absence of Conor Gormley and the Cavanagh brothers, Colm and Seán especially.

ODDS: Kildare 4/6, Draw 15/2, Tyrone 13/8

VERDICT: Kildare

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