As we approach next weekend’s provincial finals there is an overriding feeling that both the Ulster and Leinster finals are mismatches.
The bookies have priced up the handicap market at a Dublin -9 points bet at even money, which on the face of it seems reasonable. Regardless, I see real concrete evidence that Kildare can give the All Ireland champions a real scare at GAA HQ.
Here are five reasons for Kildare supporters to believe:
1. Cian O’Neill’s tactical plan
In Kildare’s facile semi-final victory over Meath, you could see a tangible departure from the repetitive, lateral hand passing game that had become prevalent in the county team and indeed, country wide in recent years.
O’Neill has largely left the Kildare defence man on man, with occasionally Eoin Doyle acting as an auxiliary sweeper. Rather than concentrating on keeping defenders behind the ball, the likes of Ollie Lyons and Johnny Byrne have been given a new lease of life, being allowed to initiate attacks as runners from deep.
Kildare seem to be comfortable going long from kick-outs, with Kevin Feely and Tommy Moolick complimenting each other so well in midfield. They like to commit bodies to the middle third which leaves their forwards unit shaping up like three banks of two at times.
Mark Donnellan is adept at finding his men from kick-outs and with Dublin likely to push up on Kildare going short it would make sense for them to attempt to take Dublin on at midfield.
There has been a natural progression under O’Neill from last year whereby their increased kick passing has added a directness and vibrancy to their attack.
2. Lethal full-forward line
If there is a perceived weakness in the Dublin team it may well be their full-back line.
This is an area where I feel Kildare match up very well. The triumvirate of Cathal McNally, Daniel Flynn and Paddy Brophy are young and dynamic. Flynn and McNally in particular have impressed in this year’s Leinster championship to date, scoring a combined total of 3-13 against Laois and Meath.
Brophy, who has long been considered as the heir apparent to Johnny Doyle as Kildare’s marquee forward. He has been slow to get back to full fitness after his return from Australia earlier this year, but the break since the Meath game will only benefit his integration into the side.
3. New look side
This is a fundamentally different Kildare side to the team’s that suffered a mental block against Dublin for years. Losing close games in 2009 and 2011 before being hammered in 2013 and 2015 mentally scarred a number of Kildare players and impacted negatively on their ability to break the glass ceiling of getting past a quarter-final berth.
You now have a combination of new players who haven’t suffered the same kind of trauma at the hands of the Dubs in Croke park such as Johnny Byrne, Kevin Feely, David Slattery and Chris Healy in conjunction with the aforementioned pair of Flynn and Brophy.
Many of these younger players have also been involved in successful underage sides which have competed well against the formidable Dublin underage conveyor belt in recent years. There is a sense that this team have a raw competitive edge that can cause Dublin problems.
4. The 20-man game
Dublin are rightly lauded as the most complete squad in Gaelic football and I’m not going to try and suggest that Kildare’s is in anyway comparable. This was displayed in the O’Byrne Cup in January when a Dublin B team beat a strong Kildare side by one point.
The likes on Kevin McManamon, Eoghan O’Gara and Bernard Brogan pose such diverse threats of speed, brute strength and accuracy in equal measure, to any defence.
However, the blend of youth and experience can help to offset any potential gains Dublin can make in this area. The elder statesmen of Emmet Bolton and Eamon Callaghan can still offer significant impact in terms of this team’s progression. While Neil Flynn was Kildare’s best attacker in the league. Flynn has struggled with injury problems but the man oozes class.
If he, and fellow recent u-21 star Chris Healy, can add more invention to a Kildare side they look more offensively minded.
5. Dublin success breeds vulnerability
Let’s be honest, a Dublin team aiming for seven-in-a-row in Leinster on Sunday are always going to be raging hot favourites in Croke Park. This recent Dublin monopoly over Leinster titles undoubtedly has to cause this team slight motivational problems.
We saw something similar last year when Mayo’s six-in-a-row bid in Connacht was derailed by Galway.
What was apparent watching that game was a disparity in appetite between the two teams for a provincial crown.
Mayo had loftier ambitions last season, as Dublin do this term. In this way, Dublin are vulnerable to a Kildare challenge. Especially if you are thinking of giving nine points on Dublin in the handicap betting. I think we can expect a positive and attritional Leinster final.
Luke O’Connor, Pundit Arena
Listen to this week’s episode of The 16th Man where we preview the Leinster final between Kildare and Dublin as well as the rest of the weekend’s GAA action.