today's all-ireland football semi-final preview
Down v Kildare
Croke Park, 3.30
BOTH camps have been falling over in an attempt to shower praise on each other. However, this mutual admiration society will cease to exist this afternoon as two of the brightest young managers around, Kieran McGeeney and James McCartan, get on with the business of reaching an All-Ireland final.
It's relatively uncharted territory for both teams: Kildare are attempting to reach the final for the first time since 1998 while Down's last appearance was in 1994 when they beat Dublin.
And it looks like this pairing could not be more evenly matched. Down have seven scorers of real significance, so don't swallow the theory that it's all Benny Coulter up front. The man is still class but it hasn't all been resting on his shoulders for some time; Mark Poland, the Clarkes, and Paul McComiskey are all significant shareholders in attack.
Kildare? They're averaging one point more a game than Down (0-19 to 0-18) and have eight scorers of significance, if you include the point-taking of Emmet Bolton who makes at least one scoring dash from defence in a match.
Kildare are bidding to become the first Leinster team to reach the All-Ireland final since Meath in 2001 but they won't give two hoots about that. They didn't even watch the Dublin-Cork semi-final last weekend, preferring instead to train at the same time.
Word from the inside suggests they've been more or less undertaking a different method of training almost every evening since their three-week break. No wonder they're the fittest county in Ireland.
Significantly, the only two defeats Down have suffered this calendar year were to Tyrone and Armagh, two teams that rely on closed defensive channels and conditioning and physicality. That would be Kildare too, although, to their credit, they have also developed into a serious attacking threat.
It's so delicately poised that injuries may decide the outcome; they say Ambrose Rogers still has a chance of playing but we're not so sure. Expect that Dan Gordon will move to partner Kalum King in midfield with Benny McArdle the probable replacement for Gordon in the full-back line.
Dermot Earley will have a late fitness test to see how he's fixed and if he's not right, Hugh Lynch will take over just like he did against Meath. Meanwhile, Straffan's Rob Kelly has also rejoined the squad after a long injury.
In almost every game they've played this season, Kildare have given the opposition a head start. And apart from Louth, they've always come back.
They've been building up to this day for two seasons and have etched out some fine results in difficult circumstances. After playing six games in quick succession, they were on a roll. Maybe the break will affect them.
But we don't think so. Down were simply awesome against Kerry but we just have a sneaky feeling for Kildare.
Betting: Kildare 4/5; Down 11/8; Draw 15/2.
-- DAMIAN LAWLOR