CAHILL says Kildare are gunning to topple Blues from pedestal
BARRY CAHILL always enjoyed playing Kildare.
Maybe that's because, invariably, his team won. Or maybe it's because he annexed three of his eight Leinster medals directly at their expense.
Or maybe, it's because arguably his most satisfying individual playing moment came against Kildare in the 2009 Leinster decider; his dashing gambit from wing-back, a one-two with Bryan Cullen, a dummied hand-pass bought by Hugh McGrillen and a clinical finish into the net right in front of Hill 16.
"To get a goal into the Hill isn't a thing that happens too often for a Dublin defender," reflects the newly-retired Cahill. "My brother-in-law is actually from Kildare so it made it that bit more sweet but yeah, you would have to say it was one of the highlights of my career."
It still seems odd that Cahill is reflecting on his career rather than looking forward to a 12th season in blue, but it's a fate he had largely signed himself up for a month prior to his official announcement.
"For 11 years, the Dublin senior football team was my life," he says. "You train every day and when you're not training, you're thinking about football. You're totally consumed by it."
No regrets, though.
It would, Cahill admits, have been harder to walk away from the current team had he not had the warm glow of a Celtic Cross shining back from his mantelpiece.
"That did come into the equation," he says. "The fact that I had won an All-Ireland medal.
"That I had played in the final and beaten Kerry. If that didn't happen, you might have tried to hang in there for another year because there is the potential there for Dublin to be successful this year.
"I'm glad I won it at the end of my career rather than at the start of my career because I probably value it more highly. There were a few of us there from 2002 who had put... I don't know... maybe a few thousands of hours of football into it over that period and had won a few Leinster titles."
A new job in Croke Park, a litany of injuries and the sight of a fresh brand of mad-for-ball team-mates ("they'd train twice a day if they could") were the other contributory factors and he is resigned to some bittersweet summer afternoon when Dublin arrive in Croke Park and he's in the stand rather than disembarking the bus.
For now though, there is Kildare and Dublin, a table-topping clash for sure but not quite the rivalry it is purported to be in some quarters.
Yes, there have been meaty exchanges and a couple of O'Byrne Cup victories for the Lilywhites over the past two winters, but Dublin have always come out on top when it matters most so, technically, as far as Cahill is concerned anyway, the sense of rivalry isn't as pronounced in the capital as it is down Kildare way.
"Over the last couple of months I've heard about this Dublin and Kildare rivalry and I don't think it's quite in the same league as Dublin and Meath," he notes.
"It doesn't have that history. Kildare are obviously on the up but I still don't think they're quite at Dublin's level.
"The way Dublin looked up at Kerry for a number of years, I think that's how Kildare look up at Dublin. They're there sitting on a pedestal and Kildare are looking up trying to knock them off it."
Sunday then, is something of a new departure for the feud. Kildare have, under Kieran McGeeney, spent all their springs until this one grazing on the middle slopes of league football in Division 2 but have taken to the rarified air of the top flight with an acute sense of purpose.
If their summer failings can be largely condensed into an inability to beat the biggest teams on the biggest occasions, getting regular practise doing exactly that in spring 'aint no bad thing'.
As Cahill well knows.
"It definitely benefits you because the next time you turn up in summer against the same opposition, you draw on the experience of beating them previously," he explains.
"We definitely found that with Dublin, with the likes of Tyrone, Cork and Kerry. If you're getting beaten by these guys earlier in the year, it's more than likely you're not going to turn them over later in the summer."
Which makes Sunday's match in Croke Park that little touch tastier.
Both teams have 100pc records yet Kildare are playing with a side that looks closer to its optimum than Dublin's.
There are, however, subtle but important changes to the Dublin make-up.
The 2011 team Cahill played on put an almost psychotic emphasis on the importance of the tackle, invested in a 'zonal' system of marking where sweepers and cover were in healthy supply.
So far – and though it is still in the embryonic stages of development – Jim Gavin's Dublin have been playing a more traditional man-marking defensive style, a rarity among the elite teams in the modern game.
"I've played in half-back lines and full-back lines who have been exposed on one-v-one or two-v-two," notes Cahill, "and you do need that cover because as a defender, you need to feel that you can go as hard as possible for the ball with your opponent, knowing that there is cover there in case you break the ball or you slip.
"I would be a small bit concerned that they are leaving themselves a small bit open, particularly in Croke Park.
"Teams are very good nowadays at creating space and leaving guys exposed in a one-v-one situation," Cahill adds.
"But I'm sure it will evolve and I'm sure it will be an important match for both teams."