What: All Ireland Championship Football Quarter Finals – Phase 1 (Group 1)
Who: Kildare v Monaghan
Where: Croke Park, Dublin
When: Sunday, July 15th at 2pm
Odds: Kildare 13/8 Draw 8/1 Monaghan 4/6
Cian O’Neill deserves an enormous amount of credit for transforming a season that was threatening to fizzle out embarrassingly.
Defeat in the Leinster Championship to a plucky Carlow side became one of the low points of Kildare football in decades and their uninspiring efforts against Derry and Longford in the qualifiers suggested that the Lillywhites were lacking the quality to make the Super 8s.
When the Kildare squad stood up to the GAA and demanded that their qualifier clash with Mayo be played in Newbridge, rather than Croke Park, it seemed to unite the county and they went on to dispose of last year’s All Ireland finalists in fine fashion.
And the newfound confidence of that result carried over into Round 4 of the qualifiers as Kildare blitzed Rory Gallagher’s Fermanagh, scoring 3-20 in the process.
They are a massively physical team that can dominate in midfield and have super scorers in Neil Flynn, Daniel Flynn and Kevin Feely. And in many ways, they are exactly the sort of team Monaghan will hate to play against.
Monaghan have always prided themselves on their ability to win secondary ball from kick-outs, but this Kildare side will be happy to press up on Rory Beggan’s kicks and make life difficult for the Farney men at midfield. Athletically at least, Monaghan will meet their match.
Another source of confidence for Kildare will be the lack of killer instinct in Monaghan. So often they dominate games in the possession stakes without reflecting that dominance on the scoreboard. It cost them a crack at another Ulster title this season when their wasted chances allowed Fermanagh in for a late killer goal.
And against Laois in the final round of qualifiers, Monaghan took the foot off the pedal when they’d gone in front which might have been punished against a better opponent.
It’s also worth noting that Monaghan have a poor record when it comes to All Ireland quarter-finals in Croke Park.
In the 2008 classic with Kerry, Monaghan left empty-handed after a one-point defeat. In 2013 and 2015 they were knocked out at the quarter-final stage by Ulster rivals Tyrone and in 2014 and 2017 Monaghan suffered heavy defeats to Dublin.
There is always a concern with Monaghan that they are over-reliant on the providence of Conor McManus and should he have an off day, they won’t have the quality elsewhere in the forward line to make up the difference.
A tight contest will suit Kildare who carry a goal threat with the ever-dangerous Dan Flynn and have match winners in Paul Cribben and Peter Kelly. If they are within striking distance in the final few minutes, I expect Kildare to use their new found momentum to eke out a win.
Prediction: Kildare by a point