Kildare to hold form
Early blooming Lilies have edge on a dangerous DCU
ONLY a foolish man -- or a bankrupt property speculator -- would wager his life savings on predicting a Gaelic football classic at this time of year.
It is, after all, January. Teams are at different stages of physical preparation.
More to the point, the two protagonists here have very different priorities -- one is an inter-county team trying to fine-tune matters for the big Allianz League kick-off next weekend, while the other covets Sigerson Cup glory as the be-all and end-all of their season.
So, for both Kildare and DCU, the O'Byrne Cup has been and will be all about getting ready for another, more important competition.
And yet, with those caveats out of the way, the aforementioned fool might be on to something. No, we're not predicting a classic ... but there is the real chance of a rollicking contest, if all the eggs fall in the right baskets.
You see, both sides have hit the ground running this January -- and this was reflected in their clearcut semi-final victories.
Kildare toppled the All-Ireland champions (albeit a scarcely recognisable version of same) a day after DCU had ripped apart a Meath side that, truth be told, was there for the taking.
Of the two, Kildare's route to the final looks slightly more impressive. Kieran McGeeney has engaged in some careful (as opposed to wholesale) experimentation and still seen his team dispatch DIT, Offaly and Dublin by a cumulative margin of 27 points.
It's true that Offaly, especially, were awful on the day. And Dublin didn't bring their All-Ireland 'A' game to Newbridge -- again no surprise given their line-up.
On the day, Dublin were too often betrayed by a poor touch while the home side had a discernible edge in fitness. It would be misleading to say the latter took full advantage, because that old and often recurring Kildare penchant for missed opportunities resurfaced once more.
They amassed 12 wides, with several more efforts falling short.
It wasn't squandermania on a grand scale, but it's still a valid criticism that they could have beaten the Dubs by even more than six points. So then, still plenty to work on for 'Geezer' but he must have been encouraged by the application on show this month.
Kildare fans will, doubtless, be equally encouraged by McGeeney's team selection.
There are seven changes from the Dublin game, with a handful of experienced campaigners back in the mix. First among them will be skipper Johnny Doyle, making his first appearance of 2012, and back in the midfield home to where he relocated last summer.
Hugh McGrillen was a dynamic influence when introduced for the second half against Dublin, and he too is now recalled from the start at corner-back.
There's a whole new half-forward line too -- of very familiar faces comprising Morgan O'Flaherty, Rob Kelly and Eamonn Callaghan. The only genuine newcomer is Pádraig Fogarty, who had been due to start against Offaly only to miss the game through illness, and who now gets a belated full debut at corner-forward.
Even with the stellar likes of Doyle and Callaghan included, it would be dangerous to presume a guaranteed improvement.
After all, midfield duo Daryl Flynn and Ronan Sweeney were two of their top performers last weekend and neither is named for tomorrow's duel.
The likelihood is that DCU will test and probe for any dip in Lilywhite performance.
Earlier in the week, there was the real fear that manager Niall Moyna would feel compelled to field a weakened team, but the postponement of their Sigerson Cup clash with Cork IT should ensure that most of their heavy-hitters are in tow.
Obviously they won't have Michael Murphy, their currently injured Donegal talisman, but there was still an abundance of quality on show during their 2-8 to 0-6 romp past Meath.
The twinkle-toed David Kelly of Sligo showcased his goalscoring prowess with a brace. Colm Begley of Parnell's and Laois fame excelled at midfield. Westmeath's Kieran Gavin was rock-solid at full-back.
This year, though, the Glasnevin academy is backboned primarily by Dubs and it would be some irony if the likes of Johnny Cooper (who eclipsed Graham Reilly with a 'Man of the Match' display against Meath but may line out for his club, Na Fianna, tomorrow), James McCarthy, the fit-again Paul Flynn, Dean Rock, Eoghan O'Gara et al achieved what their fellow county men failed to do six days ago.
ODDS: Kildare 1/4, Draw 15/2, DCU 4/1