Dubs have the experience and the options to put temporary block on Kildare’s great leap forward
I t is not easy being a Dublin footballer. No matter what level of performance is now given in a Leinster championship match, it is dismissed on the basis that it is of little significance. The All-Ireland hangs over them like a bad smell.
Yet if Meath won a Leinster there would be dancing in the streets while there will be many a song sung around the plains of Kildare tonight if they return home with a cup.
The price of relative success. Dublin are judged by different standards. So too are Tyrone and Kerry and their players live comfortably with the expectation. They realise that when you join the army you wear the boots. The biggest critics are within, the highest standards are demanded and the only way to stop people making comparisons with the past is to create a bit of history in the present.
Dublin's travails are in the in the same league as Nelson Mandela's sojourn on Robben Island: it is a long march to freedom and, more importantly, acceptance. Today is just a refuelling stop on that journey; a win would be taken as proof that the engine is ticking over smoothly, a loss would be catastrophic and Dublin are not suited by going the roundabout route.
And there is no certainty in this final compared with many recently where Dublin did as expected and wiped the floor with the opposition, maybe to the point where it did no good for later.
This will be a proper test. Kildare are a team who have made steady but significant headway after the humiliation of losing to Wicklow last year. Kildare are a lot better now than 12 months ago. They have had a very good league -- true there was frustration in the last match against Meath when a final place beckoned but looked at in an overall context it was a very good campaign.
In the past, Kildare suffered by reputation, always seen as stylish players who looked on a battle as not the way football should be played. If the opposition wanted it that badly, then they could have it. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Then along came Mick O'Dwyer and he found that Kildare had as much heart and battling qualities as any other county, sometimes more. These players are the successors to the O'Dwyer era and if those teams of a decade ago were happy to slug it out, then this group also seems quite content with man-to-man combat.
Management and managers are sometimes given too much credit but a good manager must try and create a side which stands for something they believe in. If it is short passing or long kicking then so be it, but the image generally reflects the personality of who is in charge. If O'Dwyer remained a romantic and more or less sent out a side to play good football and hoped it would be enough, it is obvious that Kieran McGeeney's Kildare have a harder edge.
That is nothing to do with frees against them or the amount of yellow or red cards. It is players who are willing to throw their bodies into situations where they might get hurt. This is why I feel Kildare are a team going places and will be a serious threat to everyone in the country within a couple of years if they stick with their all-action style and continue their rate of improvement.
It is obvious that the players have bought into this idea. There are no big egos and the biggest demonstration of this on the pitch is where Johnny Doyle, who is a star player by any standards, is now quite happy to lay off rather than try for scores if it is going to benefit the team. With Alan Smyth sniping goals, Ronan Sweeney having real direction in his play and James Kavanagh turning up in unusual positions, Kildare are now capable of running up big scores.
The comparison with Dublin's forwards is very clear. The Dubs are still fairly individualistic, a forward wins possession and immediately goes for a score. This policy yields points rather than goals, notwithstanding what happened against Westmeath. Yet that match, even if it ended up like shooting fish in a barrel, clearly shows the way forward.
The Dubs should be chasing goals more. The forward winning the ball should be taking on his marker and trying to create an extra man inside for a goal chance rather than shooting on sight for points. With the pace of the Brogans, they should be setting up three or four goal chances in every game.
It might mean they don't score much themselves but the overall total would go up. The Dubs of old often shunned easy points in favour of a demoralising goal -- and it did not matter who scored it either. At present, the one most likely to try and set up a goal is Jason Sherlock -- he needs company.
If these braves discover a similar form of togetherness like the giants of old, they will blow a lot of teams away. This is the big danger to Kildare as their defence gives up plenty of chances. Maybe they will try to play some type of sweeper system today but in general Kildare under McGeeney cannot be accused of being very defensive.
In fact, they have played a very attractive style of football and having watched them against Monaghan and Meath in the league and Offaly and Wexford in the championship, I have been very impressed with their overall attitude and workrate with a lot of good, accurate long kicking being a fundamental part of their game.
It is unlikely though that Kildare are going to march into Croke Park today in front of a huge crowd, throw caution to the wind and hope to outscore Dublin in a fast, free-flowing spectacle.
Kieran McGeeney did not come down the river in a banana skin so Kildare will hope to keep things very tight for the opening quarter at least while the Dubs throw up a whirlwind.
All storms pass so Kildare need to be still in contention after 20 minutes.
In a proper championship match between counties with real ambition, the game is nearly always decided in the last ten minutes. I expect that to happen today. At that stage Pat Gilroy can send for the fifth cavalry, or maybe the three musketeers, Bryan Cullen, Ciaran Whelan and Shane Ryan. Their presence in the bench must be pushing everyone else very hard.
Dublin have the overall resources in terms of fitness, personnel and experience to win while Kildare would have to make another fairly big leap forward.
They might not do it today but it looks likely they will have more big days in Croke Park before the long days of summer are over. Dublin to win a real battle.