This Sunday, Kildare make the daunting trip to Croke Park to take on Dublin in the Leinster Senior Football Championship Semi Final.
From a position in which they were controversially denied a place in the All Ireland final five years ago, Kildare now find themselves in division three of the National Football League and needing a replay to dispatch a poor Laois team.
The decline of Kildare has come about as fast as its rise. Despite defeat at the hands of Wicklow in the first round of the Leinster Championship during Kieran McGeeney’s first year in charge of the Lilywhites in 2008, Kildare fought their way through the qualifiers to be ultimately beaten by Cork at the quarter final stage.
2009 saw them lose to Dublin in the Leinster final and reach another quarter final against Tyrone. Having reached two successive quarter finals, McGeeney’s Kildare were beginning to be seen as the side who were leading the pack of teams chasing the likes of Kerry, Dublin, Tyrone and Cork. Despite a surprise defeat to Louth in the 2010 Leinster Championship, Kildare navigated their way to the semi finals, only to be undone by a controversial goal scored by Benny Coulter.
The following year saw Kildare being touted as a credible All Ireland contender. However, their season was ruined by two controversial scores. The first was the concession of a point from a controversial Bernard Brogan free in the Leinster semi final, and the second was having a Thomas O’Connor goal disallowed against Donegal in the All Ireland Quarter final. Both those one point defeats seemed to take the momentum out the Lilywhites, as 2011 represented the year in which Kildare peaked under McGeeney.
Although they qualified for yet another quarter final in 2013, Kildare were easily dispatched by Cork. Despite opposition from the players, it was at this juncture that the Kildare County Board voted in favour of dismissing McGeeney by one vote, 29 to 28. The nature of McGeeney’s departure puzzled many, as he was seen as an ideal candidate to rejuvenate the senior team by incorporating players who were successful at minor and under 21 levels. Instead the county board selected his assistant, Jason Ryan, to do so.
Under Ryan, Kildare have fallen away. Two successive relegations and a disappointing championship campaign last season, leave Kildare bereft of confidence. The general consensus is that Kildare face a hopeless task against Dublin on Sunday. Dublin are in such a powerful position that Paddy Power are offering 1/40 on Kildare becoming the Dubs next victim in their remorseless drive toward a tenth Leinster Championship title in eleven years.
However, although Dublin’s forwards are amongst the best in the country, question marks remain over their full back line. If Kildare can get quality ball into the hands of 6ft 4in Padraig Fogarty they might be able to score goals that could keep them in touch with the Dubs. Nevertheless they will have to temper such attacking intent with pragmatic reality and deploy a defensive system that will keep Dublin at bay. A challenge that only Donegal and Mayo have overcome in recent seasons.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena