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Wednesday 22 November 2017

Lilies can edge Dubs

SAY what you want about Leinster football, but where else would you get talk of sell-outs, all-ticket affairs and live TV coverage ... in January?!

Then again, that probably says more of the increased box-office factor brought by Dublin as All-Ireland champions and the never dwindling belief in Kildare that this year will be different.

Still, there is absolutely no denying that these two are miles ahead of the chasing Leinster pack.



OPTIMISM

Kildare supporters, it must be said, don't do cautious optimism particularly well. Without resorting completely to cultural stereotypes, the muted, knowing cutery for which Kerry fans are noted is lacking in almost totality amongst followers of the Lilywhites.

The emergence of a semi-decent team or an opening Leinster championship victory against one of the province's hierarchy is known to prompt the onset of mild hysteria and the widespread application for work holidays for the fourth Monday in September.

Which is why there has been an air of befuddlement amongst the faithful in the months since last August.

Kieran McGeeney's side were supposed to kick on from their All-Ireland semi-final appearance the year before. They had the manager, they had the players and they had the system. Kildare didn't, however, have any luck.

Between injuries and dodgy refereeing calls, McGeeney could be forgiven for wondering whether the gods of football were conspiring against him, but a new year and an almost fully fit squad carries with it another spring of optimism.

And already, there are signs that Kildare are setting the winter pace. Beating Offaly by 13 points was one thing. Holding them scoreless for the first half was quite another, and in that regard plenty of early talk is about McGeeney's 'new' full-back line.

Peter Kelly's return from a cruciate ligament injury grants them the services of a man who earned an All Star in his first year at this level, while Ollie Lyons is so highly regarded by McGeeney that he was plucked from relative obscurity last year and placed on then Football Of The Year Bernard Brogan in the Leinster semi-final.

Kilcock's Ciarán Fitzpatrick is holding up his end of the bargain at full-back too in a mean looking second-last line of defence and that's without current All Star Mick Foley or the notably sticky Andriú Mac Lochlainn.

Meanwhile, even a quick glance at the Kildare attack prompts one to wonder how the diminutive Seánie Johnston would fit into such a burly group of forwards.

Tommy Moolick and Pádraig O'Neill are big and bold enough to plough through the unglamorous work now mandatory for wing-forwards while Mikey Conway provides the passing range and vision of a classic centre-forward.

Alan Smith, Tomás O'Connor and James Kavanagh are all handfuls in their own different ways and all know where the posts are but if McGeeney had one criticism of last week which has been touted as a deeper problem for Kildare, it's that they didn't take their goal chances.

Dublin remain without college-tied Rory O'Carroll, James McCarthy and Philly McMahon so could be susceptible to the early, direct ball McGeeney is demanding.

Against that, Dublin possess a serious scoring threat, even in the absence of Alan and Bernard Brogan.

Last week, Kevin McManamon made his seasonal returned and caused all sorts of mayhem with his direct running and lethal sidesteps while Tomás Quinn, Paddy Andrews, Míceál McCarthy and Diarmuid Connolly have all looked sharp and dangerous and are men who know there are places against Kerry up for grabs.

True, it may 'only' be the O'Byrne Cup but both teams will view one another as ideal opposition at this time, particularly given the facile nature of their respective victories a week ago.

And yes, there probably remains some resentment on Kildare's part for last summer's Leinster semi-final with regard to the late, late match-winning free awarded by Cormac Reilly last year so it should be a decidedly tasty affair.

Kildare's team looks a lot closer to a potential league XV that Dublin's will, however, and they definitely have the greater need for a win.

KILDARE: S Connolly; P Kelly, C Fitzpatrick, O Lyons; B Flanagan, T O'Neill, E O'Flaherty; D Flynn, R Sweeney; T Moolick, M Conway, P O'Neill; A Smith, T O'Connor, J Kavanagh.

DUBLIN: TBA

ODDS: Kildare 4/5, Draw 7/1, Dublin 11/8

VERDICT: Kildare

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