Monday 20 November 2017

Carew: Dubs are ideal test

Kildare selector says O'Byrne encounter perfect 'barometer' ahead of NFL opener

ASK anyone to name the two leading lights of Leinster football right now, and you'll have to wait barely two seconds for an answer. Don't expect too much variation from the script either. Number one Dublin, followed by Kildare, with the rest scrambling furiously simply to stay in touch.

The new season is only two weekends old and already there is no sign that this Sky Blue/Lilywhite axis of power is about to be broken.

Pat Gilroy's All-Ireland champions have won their opening two O'Byrne Cup rounds (against Carlow and UCD) by a cumulative margin of 21 points. Kieran McGeeney's perennial Sam Maguire pretenders boast an identical record: they've seen off DIT and Offaly by a combined 21 points.

This Sunday's TG4-televised semi-final should be different -- ergo a whole lot closer -- for one self-explanatory reason: Kildare and Dublin will be squaring off against each other at St Conleth's Park.

The fact that both sides have won convincingly while road-testing quite a few fringe players offers further evidence of their strength in depth. The impression is that Gilroy has indulged in more experimentation than 'Geezer', even though Kildare selector Niall Carew points out that nine of the team that started their ill-fated quarter-final against Donegal last July didn't feature in the first 15 against Offaly last Sunday.

Kildare's previous SFC defeat last summer -- their Leinster semi-final against Dublin -- was settled by a similar wafer-thin margin with the outcome equally shrouded in Lilywhite angst over a dubious refereeing decision.

The memory of Bernard Brogan's last-gasp free is bound to add further spice to this Sunday's rematch, even though Dublin's match-winner won't be involved (on holidays).

Not that Carew is harping on about past events. Rather, he sees Sunday as the ideal early-season challenge for a squad desperate to make Year Five of the McGeeney revolution the one that finally sees a major trophy winging its way to Newbridge.

"We are very pleased to be playing Dublin and I'm sure Dublin are the same, because it's a good barometer of where you are at for two weeks' time, when we play Tyrone (in NFL Division Two)," Carew told the Evening Herald.

"Every team wants to win every competition it's in; we are no different. Everyone wants the big one. Obviously our ultimate goal is to try and win the ultimate prize. For now you can't worry about that -- you can only worry about Sunday.

"If that means beating Dublin, great ... and if you lose, you'd prefer to lose now than in July.

"It's a great learning curve against Dublin, and it's the same for Dublin. It's the perfect game leading into the National League."

Speaking of which, Kildare's spring record under McGeeney contrasts unfavourably with their championship consistency. In his debut campaign, 2008, they were relegated from the top-flight and they've been unable to escape Division Two in each of the last three seasons. Carew described as a "myth" the notion that they don't care about the league.

"Yes, we tailor training for different times of the year; maybe the league did suffer as a result. But we want to win every game. By doing so, you should get out of the league. Maybe injuries have held us back ... for now we don't have too many excuses."

To underline that point, Kildare have just two long-term absentees right now -- Dermot Early and Hughie Lynch. "We're in a better position than this time last year -- we had maybe 12 injuries then," the selector pointed out.

Carew was not overly surprised by Offaly's inability to compete with the resurgent Lilies during last Sunday's 0-17 to 0-4 rout, pointing out: "In fairness they are only getting together. I would say that was a trial match for Offaly ... this is our fifth year and people seem to forget that.

"We have all that (trawling) out of the way. Offaly are building again, and you can see that with the amount of newcomers they have, and a new management team just in place.

"We were quite similar (in 2008). I remember Longford beat us in our first outing in the O'Byrne Cup, when there were big expectations.

"We are under no illusions that the threat from Offaly in the summer will be completely different," he concluded.

That Leinster quarter-final can wait ... for now it's all about the Dubs this Sunday.

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