Midfield battle is crucial for Dublin
If Cahill can keep the shackles on Lily star Doyle, Sky Blues will win
Two teams - Dublin and Kildare - eyeing up a provincial title go head to head this Sunday in what should be a fascinating contest. It is by no means the end of the road for the team defeated but a win would provide a huge confidence boost and with respect to Wexford and Carlow, a guaranteed quarter-final appearance down the road.
The Dubs and the Lilywhites will battle it out in front of the biggest crowd of the summer so far and this pairing has the potential to fully spark the 2011 championship into life. Both teams have been steadily improving but this season could well be make or break for rival managers Kieran McGeeney and Pat Gilroy.
The current Kildare and Dublin teams have quite a lot in common. Both figured in last year's All-Ireland semi-finals and it could be argued that both should have contested the final itself.
The respective managers Gilroy and McGeeney have had a few years to shape their team and both are under pressure to deliver some silverware. In McGeeney's case a Leinster title would certainly help his position going forward but anyone who knows him knows very well that he is thinking of the bigger prize - Sam Maguire.
Gilroy too is under pressure to deliver but in his case a Leinster title alone wouldn't satisfy the growing number of frustrated Dublin supporters. Dublin need to build on last year's good run through the qualifiers and nothing less than an All-Ireland final appearance (no matter how that is achieved) will save his job.
That is the nature of the job but to be fair to him and the coaching team behind him, the signs have been very positive this year. A very good league campaign will have given the players good experience against the top teams and it was encouraging to see a Dublin team giving the league a real rattle.
That, of course, is now history and long forgotten and the championship has always been the competition where teams are primarily judged. The first round performance against Laois wasn't the greatest by any means but it was clearly a game that Dublin were never in any danger of losing.
Laois didn't have the quality or the gameplan to really challenge and once the Dubs got their noses in front the outcome was a foregone conclusion. It will be a very different story on Sunday against a Kildare team who have the players and the confidence to do real damage.
Under McGeeney, Kildare have been extremely slow to get going in the Championship for some strange reason but once they get going they are very difficult to stop. Against Wicklow, they were sluggish and uncertain but in the Meath game they were sharper and assured in most aspects of their game.
The only negative was the 18 wides on the day but that too can be turned into a positive in the sense that they are creating so many scoring opportunities in every game and if they can take a high percentage of those chances on Sunday then they will be very difficult to beat.
There is much to like about this particular Kildare team. They play total football, the way the game should be played in my opinion and this type of game can cause all sorts of problems for the opposition.
When in possession, players are encouraged to go on the overlap and create options and that includes the entire full-back line who can find themselves further out the field. It is the Tyrone model that proved so successful over the last decade.
Kildare have some excellent players in their forward line and on their day Alan Smith, Eamon Callaghan, James Kavanagh and John Doyle, if he decides to play there, can be devastating as we have seen in part over the last four years.
Gilroy will be well aware of their potential threat and will be looking for a big performance from his back six. The defence in general has been better this year but this game represents a significant step up from any game played so far.
The news that Philly McMahon will be out for a number of weeks with a knee injury picked up in the early stages of the first round game against Laois is a serious blow, as Dublin are not blessed with readily prepared replacements so any reshuffle could have a negative effect and create some unwanted uncertainty. The best option would be to bring Paul Brogan straight in but I think his best position is further out the field.
James McCarthy or Kevin Nolan could move back into the corner to facilitate Brogan at wing-back and that would give Dublin more of an attacking option as Brogan loves to get forward. The rest of the team picks itself at this stage and we will look again to the forward unit to get the Dubs over the line.
The full-forward line in particular has a menacing look and will certainly get the required scores providing they get plenty of possession.
The midfield area is key in every game but particularly in this game as both sides have good scoring forwards.
Kildare for me have the more settled midfield and, with Doyle running the show in the last two games, it is vital that Dublin break even at least. Doyle will need to be man-marked and of the two Dublin midfielders Barry Cahill is the man best equipped for this particular job.
He has played most of his football as a defender so tracking back shouldn't pose too many problems.
He will need to fully focus on the task as a free-running Doyle would do serious damage and Doyle also has the cuteness to ghost into space at times to telling effect during a game. This game has the potential to ignite the championship and it might well come down to goals scored on the day. If Dublin can find a couple of three-pointers they will almost certainly march on and regain the Delaney Cup.
If Kildare can somehow manage to keep them from scoring goals and convert a high percentage of the opportunities they create at the other end then it will be them to progress. A draw is not out of the question but I believe Dublin will just about get over the line. The Dubs by two.
p The Dublin hurlers had a surprisingly easy win last Saturday against Galway and that win would suggest that this team is ready to move up to the next level. Congrats. The football supporters who will attend Sunday's duel with Kildare in big numbers should also get behind this Dublin hurling team and turn up to the hurling final in a two weeks' time.