No big story in early cup glory
BORD na MÓNA O'BYRNE CUP FINAL KILDARE v DUBLIN (Newbridge, Tomorrow 2.0)
WE'LL start with the big picture, panoramic perspective on tomorrow's meeting of Lilywhite and Sky Blue: it doesn't matter.
But the small picture sometimes tells a different story. St Conleth's Park promises to be pretty full, if not quite packed; and when two arch-rivals end up eye-balling each other, and the scoreline is close, and the crowd gets energised ... all of a sudden, players who mightn't otherwise be fully engaged will get drawn into a battle where the next score, or even the next ball, is everything.
That happened in Navan last Sunday, when Dublin were nine up and apparently coasting after 45 minutes. Then, through a mixture of switching off and Meath's belated discovery of accuracy and momentum, that chasm kept closing before the hosts drew level in the 71st minute.
Páirc Tailteann was rocking, a 'famous' victory within sight ... only then did Dublin regroup and show commendable composure to kick two late points from Philly Ryan and Eoghan O'Gara.
Job done, just about ... onto Newbridge.
By chilly January standards, Meath/Dublin was a surprising firecracker. Two years ago, when Jim Gavin was only warming his feet in the Dublin hotseat, Dublin and Kildare met in the O'Byrne Cup final at Parnell Park and it was even more electrifying. It was thrill-a-minute, the pace was incessant, and Kildare eventually took the spoils (1-16 to 0-17) after extra-time.
As we said at the outset, when old rivals meet - even this early in the season - the game can take on a life of its own.
We could easily witness something similar tomorrow, especially given the prolific O'Byrne Cup returns being posted by Kildare - albeit against a standard of opposition well below Dublin's benchmark.
Yet, recent history demands that we put all of this in big picture perspective. Six weeks after Kildare prevailed in the 2013 O'Byrne Cup final, they lost to Dublin by 2-20 to 2-7 in the league at Croke Park. Backed by a near-gale, they actually led by two points after 28 minutes ... and then collapsed like a house of cards, failing to score for almost half-an-hour while Dublin blitzed them for 1-11 (and it could have been more).
A few months later, the sides resumed Croke Park battle in a Leinster semi-final: again, Kildare were fast out of the blocks (scoring the first 1-2) before reality intervened and the Dubs romped to a 16-point win, 4-16 to 1-9.
What we can take from the above is that local bragging rights could well ensure a very decent game here, and victory for Kildare would do no harm for confidence ... but what really matters is their quest to escape Division Two and make a decent stab at overdue Leinster glory.
For Dublin, the bar is even higher and comments from both managers in the past week underline that this is merely a means to an end.
"It's great preparation for the two of us going into two very tough opening (league) games. We've got Cork in Páirc Uí Rinn, which is always a tough, tough place to go," said Gavin, while Jason Ryan admitted: "Dublin and ourselves will probably be going gung-ho in training this week in preparation for the first round of the league, instead of tapering off as much as we would for a National League game."
BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Kildare 7/4, Draw 15/2, Dublin 4/7