Saturday 22 September 2018

Lilies not quite ready to slay Dublin Goliath

Leinster SFC Final: Dublin v Kildare Croke Park, Tomorrow 4.0, live RTÉ2

Kildare’s Daniel Flynn who has enjoyed an outstanding Leinster Championship. Pics: Sportsfile
Kildare’s Daniel Flynn who has enjoyed an outstanding Leinster Championship. Pics: Sportsfile

At long last, are we about to set eyes upon that rarest of species, that endangered specimen presumed by many of us naysayers to be already extinct?

Are we about to witness the edge-of-the-seat beauty of a genuinely competitive Leinster senior football final?

All the signs from Kildare are promising. In everything they achieved last month, coming hot on the heels of top-flight promotion, they are starting to resemble the real deal.

A work in progress? No doubt. All-Ireland pretenders? Don't be so presumptuous.

But they look supremely athletic, powerful, in tune with the game-plan and even - perish the Lilywhite stereotype - prolific.

Dublin forward Paul Mannion, going past Westmeath’s James Dolan, will be hoping to build on his impressive showing last time out. Pic: Sportsfile
Dublin forward Paul Mannion, going past Westmeath’s James Dolan, will be hoping to build on his impressive showing last time out. Pic: Sportsfile

In short, on paper, they might just be the team to make Dublin scrap for their supper before history beckons in the guise of a record seventh consecutive Leinster SFC title.

But at this pre-match juncture, we can't really be sure. Taking a sledgehammer to Laois and demolishing Meath prove that they have come on, in leaps and bounds, during the second year of Cian O'Neill's tenure.

But Laois are among the flakiest inter-county teams around. And Meath? Well, let's give Andy McEntee some year-one benefit of the doubt: they are probably akin to Kildare 12 months ago in that not all of the building blocks are in place.

All of which meant that, in Tullamore four weeks ago, the Kildare of 2017 took advantage of Meath's defensive vulnerabilities while also putting a suffocating defensive squeeze on their putative match-winners.

Here's the rub. Laois are light years removed from Dublin; Meath still in a distant galaxy.

We won't know, truly, just how ready are Kildare until the whistle goes at four bells tomorrow.

Jack McCaffrey. Pic: Sportsfile
Jack McCaffrey. Pic: Sportsfile

It's conceivable that we mightn't even know as 5pm approaches, for Jim Gavin's Dublin don't always blitz their provincial final rivals in the first half (they trailed Meath at the midpoint in 2013, led Westmeath by four in 2015 and by just one last summer).

But the key is that Dublin don't relent. If anything, their pace intensifies in the 'moving' third quarter as a queue of high-profile subs with a point to prove enters the fray.

When this happens, and the opposition starts gulping for oxygen, concentration wavers and gaps appear. Gaps that no one plunders better than Dublin.

There are times, of course, when the All-Ireland holders go for the jugular relatively early. It happened against Westmeath three weeks ago. The grisly outcome was a timely reminder of just how ruthlessly efficient this Sky Blue machine can be.

Paul Mannion had become something of a forgotten assassin, even when on the pitch. Not any more; not after his remarkable eight points from play.


In truth, Dublin's form graph before that 31-point massacre had been, if you'll pardon the oxymoron, consistently patchy. This trend dated back to the business end of last year's championship; right through the league even as they broke that all-time unbeaten record; and onto their eventual unravelling of Carlow's defensive blanket.

Against Westmeath, they were thrillingly in the zone and it was far easier to imagine a team now reaping the benefits of a much lighter training schedule in the early months of the year. Fatigue is an obvious peril for defending champions, even more so when going for three in-a-row; here they looked top-of-the-ground fresh.

That said, this latest Dublin-inflicted rout may prove a blessing in disguise for Kildare. It has tempered those familiar Lilywhite enemies: fan hysteria and premature great expectations.

Cian O'Neill deserves huge credit for the physical conditioning of his team, the tenacity of their tackling, their tactical acumen and also their positive attitude thus far, reflected in tallies of 1-21 and 2-16.

In Kevin Feely, their high-fetching and high-scoring midfielder, and Daniel Flynn, their turf-devouring predator, they possess two of the standout performers of this provincial campaign. No surprise, maybe, that both have returned from a professional sporting environment.

The challengers might well adapt a more defensive set-up against Dublin, and no one could blame O'Neill if this transpires.

It's imperative that they stay in the game for as long as they can, hoping to spy chinks of fallibility in the holders.

But even if that happens, a more likely scenario is that the second onslaught will come and Kildare's resistance will eventually crack.

ODDS: Dublin 1/14 Draw 16/1 Kildare 9/1


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