Martin Breheny compares Dublin and Kildare under 12 different headings
CONSISTENCY: With the exception of the inexplicable aberration against Meath in last year's Leinster semi-final, dependability has ranked quite high since Pat Gilroy's arrival as manager.
Prior to that, Dublin struggled in the league but over the last two seasons, they have won 11, drew one and lost three of 15 Division 1 games.
Most All-Ireland titles are won by counties who are consistent in the league, with Cork, Kerry and Tyrone being prime examples.
Inconsistent in the league, where they have won only seven of 14 games over the past two seasons. It leaves them in Division 2, which is not the best preparation for the championship.
They have been erratic in Leinster, too, failing to reach the semi-finals in two of the last three seasons. However, they have excelled in the busy qualifier schedule, which they built on to reach last year's All-Ireland semi-final, and are confident that they are on a very stable course now.
It fluctuates wildly, which is inevitable since all of the players who were there pre-2010 had some terrible experiences, while the newcomers took a jolt with Meath's five-goal blitz a year ago.
Dublin have rebuilt self-belief since then but suffered another setback with the manner of their defeat against Cork in the league final in April.
A team like Dublin, who are usually in the top four of the All-Ireland betting every year, needs to win the title to gain real confidence. Unless that happens, insecurity will always be a threat.
They are be hind Dublin in the squad development cycle and, consequently, have suffered less damage to their confidence shield.
Failure to escape from Division 2 wasn't helpful while the defeat by Louth in last year's Leinster quarter-final (they conceded 1-22) looked ominous, but they regained stability and, in the end, were desperately unlucky not to reach the All-Ireland final.
Even when things are going against them, they seem to have acquired the knack of looking calm, which is quite an advantage.
They averaged 1-15 in last year's championship, a return which is often enough to win All-Ireland titles, and increased the yield to 2-13 per game in this year's NFL, with Bernard Brogan (2-26), Tomas Quinn (4-17), Diarmuid Connolly (4-11), Kevin McManamon (2-11) and Alan Brogan (2-4) leading the way.
Dublin managed to score 18 goals in the league, which was as much as Cork, Kerry and Armagh combined. They hit a dire Laois for 1-16 in the first round of the Leinster championship.
Like Dublin, they averaged 1-15 per game in last year's championship, ranging from 2-17 against Meath in the All-Ireland quarter-final down to 0-13 (without extra-time) against Antrim in the qualifiers.
However, there was a dip in Division 2 last spring where Kildare averaged just over 13 points, scoring only four goals in seven games.
They failed to score a goal in either championship game against Wicklow or Meath this year, averaging 0-14 while shooting a total of 35 wides. They need to improve their score-to-chance ratio if they are to beat Dublin.
This has been problem territory for a long time. It looked as if it might have been safely negotiated after they saw off Tyrone in the All-Ireland quarter-final last year, but they squandered a five-point lead against Cork in the semi-final.
It was even worse against the Rebels in this year's league final where an eight-point lead after 40 minutes wasn't enough to sustain them as Cork picked the Dubs off calmly to edge home by a point.
Vastly superior to Wicklow in the Leinster first round, it took them a very long time to really assert themselves, but they were more clinical against Meath for the second successive year.
They failed to exploit an extra man for 50 minutes against Dublin in the 2009 Leinster final, but will argue that they are much more efficient now. The jury is still out on the precise nature of their ruthlessness.
Ger Brennan will certainly recall Dublin's last clash with Kildare, having been sent off on a straight red card after 20 minutes of the 2009 Leinster final.
However, his 14 colleagues prevailed without him. Brennan was also sent off (two yellows) against Wexford last year, as was Denis Bastick (straight red). Ross McConnell was sent off on two yellows late on against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final. Dublin have averaged four yellow cards per game over their last eight championship outings.
They have conceded an average of 35pc of their scores to free-kicks since the start of the 2010 championship. Significantly, though, it rose to 56pc against Cork last August.
No red cards since the start of the 2010 championship and an average of four yellows per game.
They have conceded 36pc of their scores from frees over two seasons but, unlike Dublin, whose concession rate shot up under real pressure in the All-Ireland semi-final, Kildare gave away just 0-5 of 1-16 (27pc) from frees against Down in the second semi-final last year.
Former All-Ireland referee John Bannon has worked with Kildare to improve the squad awareness of tackling and various other facets which helps to reduce the 'frees against' count.
Bernard Brogan leads the cast. His goal-scoring capacity, allied to the rest of his rounded game, not only makes him a huge threat in his own right but also draws opponents with him, leaving space for his colleagues, including his brother Alan, who is still a significant figure.
Other lead acts are goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton -- now bringing an extra dimension with his long-range dead-ball accuracy -- Rory O'Carroll, Diarmuid Connolly and, on their day day, Michael Darragh Macauley and Bryan Cullen.
Think Lilywhite, think Johnny Doyle. Now, more than ever, he's a leading figure, exerting his intelligent influence from a midfield base that takes him in all directions.
Eamonn Callaghan's versatility, Emmett Bolton's industry, Hugh McGrillen's vigilance and James Kavanagh's sharpness are also vital assets. However, Kildare are missing the All Star talents of Dermot Earley and Peter Kelly, both serious losses.
Gilroy's appointment surprised many Dublin supporters, but it has turned out to be a good decision. He made the hard calls right from the start and had to make even more after the Meath massacre last year.
The bounce-back was impressive and he now has a squad of undoubted potential. Dublin's league and championship record since his arrival reads: Played 23, Won 17, Drew 1, Lost 5. Still no titles to show, but real progress recorded.
Kieran McGeeney has come a long way since the May Sunday in 2008 when he emerged after his first championship game as Kildare manager explaining the defeat by Wicklow.
"I'll have to take a long look at myself in terms of what I'm asking them to do," he said.
Three years on, Kildare are in a much more advanced state, having won 12, drawn one and lost five of their last 18 championship games, reached one Leinster final, two All-Ireland quarter-finals and one semi-final. However, similarly to Gilroy, a title has eluded McGeeney.
Strength in Depth
McManamon, Barry Cahill -- both of whom are unlucky to lose their places -- Quinn, McConnell, Declan Lally, Paul Brogan, David Henry and Paul Casey comprise the main back-up and are likely to be used frequently if Dublin's championship campaign enjoys an extended run.
Dublin's style is especially demanding so it's vital to have subs who can switch on straight away without breaking the flow. Dublin are quite well endowed in that department, certainly in attack.
Their difficulty is in deciding what constitutes the top 15, which is a nice problem to have.
It's a 20-man game nowadays, making it more important than ever to have high-quality back-up. And since different games call for different changes, the depth has to run right through the squad. Kildare brought on Ronan Sweeney, Robert Kelly, Padraig O'Neill, Mark Scanlon and Tommy O'Neill against Laois and are further strengthened by the availability of Daryl Flynn.
The absence through injury of Earley and Kelly, both of whom would be definite starters if fit, weakens the team and, by extension, the bench.
The defeat by Meath last year was Dublin's first setback in Leinster since losing to Westmeath in 2004, so nobody can question their consistent impetus against their eastern peers.
They didn't have to test its condition against a pitiful Laois effort in the quarter-final three weeks ago but had an excellent league campaign (with the notable exception of the last quarter against Cork in the final).
Out-scoring Meath by 0-11 to 0-3 in the second half three weeks ago gave Kildare an added push towards the next level, but they were going well anyway. There's a relentless dimension to Kildare when they crank up their game to full power -- indeed, they seem to have an endless supply of energy.
The one doubt about them is their failure to get out of Division 2, but they have built solid campaigns from the lower tier over the past few seasons.
They showed great resilience to retrieve what looked a desperate situation against Wexford last year and, even more significantly, when Tyrone out-scored them by 0-8 to 0-2 between the 23rd and 41st minutes in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
It gave Tyrone a two-point lead and while it was a small lead, Tyrone would have been expected to press on, as they did so often in the past.
However, Dublin out-scored them by 1-7 to 0-3 from there to the finish. Examples of far less durable finishes were last year's Leinster semi-final clash with Meath, the All-Ireland semi-final against Cork and this year's league final, also against the All-Ireland champions.
Four examples of their mental hardness stand out from the last year.
1 The manner in which they remained solid in very trying circumstances in last year's drawn qualifier against Antrim, which was played a few hours after the burial of Dermot Earley Snr.
2 The recovery against Meath in the All-Ireland quarter-final where they gave the Royals a 1-3 start before surging back to win by eight points.
3 They trailed Down by six points after 40 minutes of the All-Ireland semi-final but cut the margin to two and were unlucky not to get a winning goal right at the end.
4 Meath led Kildare by two points at half-time in this year's Leinster quarter-final but were hit for six unanswered points in the opening 15 minutes of the second half.
It's more than two-to-one in Dublin's favour in championship clashes with Kildare over the years. However, Kildare enjoyed a surge during Mick O'Dwyer's second term when they beat Dublin twice (1998, 2000), both in replays.
However, Dublin regained the ascendancy in 2002 and reinforced it two years ago when they beat Kildare in the Leinster final despite having Brennan sent off in the first half.
They always possess it in some form, although not necessarily of the match-winning variety. Still, Dublin in full, flamboyant flow in front of the blue-clad hordes on Hill 16 is one of the enduring images of the championship. Returning to Croke Park for their league games was a shrewd move and gives them an extra edge as they now regard it as their home venue.
They also bring a real sense of colour and occasion to Croke Park when they're going well. One of the best supported counties in the country, there's always plenty of excitement when they build up momentum. Remember the emotion of 1998? It's waiting to return if this team moves up another notch.