After securing promotion to Division 1 of the National Football League for next season, the Kildare footballers make their championship bow this weekend in Tullamore when they face Laois.
Sunday’s clash sees the men relegated to Division 4 in the spring, up against one of the form teams in the country. Under the guidance of Cian O’Neill, the Lilywhites are heavy favoutites to progress to the provincial semi-final. On the opposite side of the draw to Dublin, Kildare will face the winner of Meath v Louth in the last four should they win on Sunday.
Kildare are probably the strongest of the quartet of sides on their half of the draw and will see this as a great opportunity to reach a provincial decider. Should they reach a first Leinster final since 2009, it will give them at least a berth in the last 12 of the championship.
The Lilywhites haven’t tasted provincial glory since they defeated Dublin in a replay in 2000. Should they repeat the trick they will all but certainly have to overcome the men from the capital once again.
Despite the lack of silverware in recent years, Kildare haven’t been a bad team over the last couple of years. You have to go back to 2010 to find the last time they lost their championship opener – a run they will be confident of continuing. Also, over the last five years, it has taken good teams to knock them out of the championship – Mayo last year and before that Kerry (albeit a hammering), Monaghan, Tyrone and Cork in 2012.
Two All-Ireland quarter-final appearances in the last five years have given them a solid foundation heading into Championship 2017.
A league title would have been a bonus, but despite losing to Galway in Croke Park, they still secured promotion to the top tier for 2018. Hopefully, from a Kildare point of view, they will learn from the experience and be up for the challenge of reaching the latter stage of competitions.
Slowly but surely they are putting a good team in place, and under the guidance of O’Neill, are performing well this time around.
The return of Paddy Brophy is a huge addition for them. Brophy spent some time Down Under with the West Coast Eagles but has returned home and will be looking to make an impression on his return.
The return is also a boost as Kidlare don’t have a lot of depth in their squad. Apart from two injury-enforced changes, they made their first tactical substitution after 65 minutes in the league final.
Kildare also have scorers in their side. The likes of Niall Kelly and Kevin Feely are more than capable of putting up decent tallies – which is so important against free-scoring outfits like Dublin.
There hasn’t been much hype coming out of the Kildare camp either, as they look to go about their business and do the talking where it matters most – on the pitch.
They may be a bit off Dublin’s level right now, but as the season progresses, they appear to be the number two side in the privince and will look to justify that position with a win on Sunday.
Joel Slattery, Pundit Arena