Gavin and McGeeney looking for pointers
Published 26/01/2013 | 05:00
ON the face of it, it's 'only' an O'Byrne Cup final – the culmination of the challenge game circuit where players generally play themselves out of panels rather than into teams.
For that reason, there's usually little that can be taken from games at this time of year, but tonight's Parnell Park showdown might throw up more pointers than usual.
Dublin and Kildare are a good yardstick for each other heading into this final and if last year's final showdown is anything to go by, it should be an interesting evening.
Jim Gavin's trawl of his county continues, but just who he takes into the league and beyond remains open to conjecture. Save for a shadow team's defeat to Wicklow, Dublin have progressed with the minimum of fuss as the picture of his side starts to take shape.
At this stage, there can only be a handful of definite starters. The absence of the college players and the Ballymun Kickhams contingent means Gavin hasn't yet had everyone at his disposal, despite running a panel of close to 50 for January. The return of Ciaran Kilkenny further muddies the water.
"He has brought in a lot of minor and U-21 lads and he has fused them with some of the more senior players who have been there for the last couple of years," said one of the panel's elder statesmen, Ger Brennan.
"It's interesting to see how different players get on with each other and no doubt, the management are quite happy with how things have worked. They have learned a lot about lads who are up to it and who might need a bit of work."
Kildare's circumstances are a little bit different. In six years under Kieran McGeeney, they have been transformed into one of the most consistent sides in the country come championship time, even if they have ultimately come up short.
Tonight's game represents the start of a three-game run against the last three All-Ireland champions. A date with Dublin this evening in Parnell Park is followed by league clashes against Donegal and Cork.
Kildare have never had problem against the middle-ranked teams. In fact, they have been thoroughly ruthless, as the 100pc qualifier record under McGeeney underlines, but they have been found wanting when it has come to the crunch.
McGeeney maintained this week that 2012 saw Kildare play some of the best football of his reign, but he has made changes to both his panel and his back-room team. Jason Ryan's capture could be very significant, but the form of Seanie Johnston may have a more tangible influence.
A winter with Kildare and a summer spent out of the spotlight can only help. Johnston's ability as a footballer was lost amid all the controversy and hurling cameos. He kicked seven points in his first start for the county last weekend.
With a league clash in Croke Park and the possibility of a Leinster semi-final showdown at HQ in the summer, this could be a worthy first installment.