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Tuesday 21 August 2018

Lilies set to be left feeling blue again

Dublin may lack sharpness to maintain demolition trend ... but they'll still win

Dublin’s Brian Fenton and Kildare’s Kevin Feely compete for possession during last year’s Leinster SFC final
Dublin’s Brian Fenton and Kildare’s Kevin Feely compete for possession during last year’s Leinster SFC final
Dublin’s Brian Howard

Who said league predictions were easy? As frazzled experience has shown, they're a minefield. Especially on the opening weekend.

You haven't seen either team in a genuinely competitive context, if at all. How fit are they? How sharp? How close to full strength? How focussed?

All of this is something of a mystery. But, when in doubt, all you can do is revert to some tried-and-trusted rules of GAA forecasting. And when it comes to Dublin/Kildare in the Jim Gavin era, that means ...

(1) Dublin always beat them.

(2) Usually by double-digits.

(3) Kildare always lose in Croke Park.

(4) That's it. Verdict Dublin!

The relatively scant evidence produced by Dublin's closest Leinster rival during the Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup did little to dissuade you from the mercilessly pithy prediction cited above.

Lacklustre

They lost at home to Louth in a manner every bit as lacklustre as the 2-11 to 0-9 scoreline implies. They were better in Longford but lost again.

None of which suggests they are ready to take out the Dubs.

But?

Truth is, unless you belong to either inner sanctum, you cannot be sure what's about to unfold this evening.

A few up-and-coming Dubs who played in the O'Byrne Cup may see action; but we'll be left guessing by Gavin's now-firmly established habit of delaying his team announcement until the Saturday.

If we're looking for trends, last year's NFL opener against Cavan offers a decent clue: ten of the players who had started the 2016 All-Ireland final replay against Mayo lined out in Kingspan Breffni, along with two former Footballers of the Year - Jack McCaffrey and Michael Darragh Macauley.

Ergo, Gavin didn't go crazy on the experimentation. He won't do so tonight either, even if a couple of the wannabes who impressed in this year's shortlived O'Byrne Cup campaign (Colm Basquel and Brian Howard spring to mind) are likely to see game-time.

But while Dublin may be strong on paper, how sharp can they hope to be? As with last year, post-Christmas, they've had a team holiday, a late return to collective training, and no pre-season tournament action.

They were slow out of the blocks in Cavan, trailing by a point after 20 minutes - but then they moved through the gears and their class ultimately told with an untroubled seven-point victory.

Might something similar unfold this evening? We reckon it could be closer, but that all depends on Kildare.

Their O'Byrne Cup meanderings, we suspect, could lead you up the wrong path. Five of the '15' that started against Dublin last July started against Louth; and likewise five against Longford. Of those, All Star nominee Kevin Feely was the only Leinster final survivor to start both games.

Quite a few more who featured in some capacity against the Dubs have also seen January game-time, along with a cohort of rookies seeking to break into Cian O'Neill's first-team thinking.

Here's the rub: it is three weeks since the Longford game and it's a safe guess that O'Neill and his players have put in a huge effort, physical and tactical, with an eye to tonight's game.

While it is stretching credulity to back them here, Kildare need to make a statement this spring. They're back in the top-flight and it's time to show this is where they belong. The manager is in his third season and with that comes a pressing requirement to push on. Plus they must banish the (now-firmly established) stereotype of a team with a Croke Park allergy that can't live with Dublin.

If there's a time to ambush the All-Ireland champions, we can't think of more benign conditions ...

And yet it still appears a leap too far. During Gavin's reign, this will be Dublin's fourth time to open a league campaign as defending All-Ireland champions. They've won the previous three.

And, even if reclaiming their league crown from Kerry is far down the priority list, they won't slip up here.

Odds: Dublin 2/9 Draw 10/1 Kildare 9/2

Verdict: Dublin

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