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ALL-IRELAND SFC QUARTER-FINALS

MEATH v KILDARE

Croke Park, Tomorrow, 4.0, Live RTÉ 2

HISTORY and tradition won't sway this one but it's worth looking at anyway.

Meath don't lose All-Ireland quarter-finals. Kildare have yet to win one. Then again, Meath haven't been in one as Leinster champions since 2001 and there are plenty of theories circulating about their well-being just now. Not all of them good.

How, for instance, has Eamonn O'Brien kept the juices flowing and the level of sharpness and competitiveness at its peak over the past three match- less weeks? It's an affliction from which their predecessors as Leinster kingpins, Dublin, clearly suffered in previous years.

No one in Meath is denying that a provincial crown was their seasonal goal for 2010 but having earned it in such tainted circumstances, they could hardly call this a progressive year if they were to fall flat against their dear neighbours.

The optimists in the Royal county will say that they beat Louth, regardless of the legitimacy of Joe Sheridan's goal, despite the fact that any number of their brightest stars failed to shine in the match.

Sheridan, a dervish of creativity and scores in the rounds leading up to the Louth encounter, was one. Cian Ward, another, and when Louth battered their way back into contention before a sinful array of mistakes and wides left them with that perilous one-point lead coming down the home straight, not enough of the Royal cavalry stood up to be counted. Another thing, though, something which may see them unstuck tomorrow against Kildare.

This end of the championship is starting to show that the old adage of it being a 20-man game rather than 15, is true. Kerry, Tyrone, Kildare and even Dublin have used their subs bench to refresh, revitalise, and reshape at a time in the match when it's most needed.



Suspicion

Meath have failed to really utilise their bench in the same way and, barring injuries, might have named the same starting 15 in every match in their championship thus far.

Certainly, if one of their forwards fails to fire, the likes of Brian Farrell could come in and there are options in Mark Ward and Conor Gillespie in midfield, but the suspicion is that if they are well behind with 10 minutes to go, they have very few game-changers to introduce.

Kildare, by comparison, were able to bring on Eoghan O'Flatherty (starting tomorrow) to kick two points and Ronan Sweeney (1-1) against Monaghan.

The great white hope of Kildare football, Gary White, still hasn't hatched a way back into Kieran McGeeney's starting plans since the Louth debacle while Keith Cribben and David Whyte provide assurance and dynamism in different parts of the pitch.

Yet what makes Kildare the force they have undoubtedly become in the past few weeks is an adherence to an effective system whilst in possession, a huge work ethic without it and a vast improvement in the technical side of the game.

McGeeney said after beating Antrim in Casement Park that what had let Kildare down against Louth wasn't physique or heart or desire, it was mistakes and a shortfall in skill.

He also said after the final league match against Meath in Navan that he had tailored Kildare's training so that, unlike last year, they would peak at the important time of championship.

While admitting that some of that planning was guess work, the improvement in Kildare's play over the past six weeks has been stark enough so that much of McGeeney's plan is coming together nicely.

So good have they been in patches of the Antrim and Monaghan matches, they've looked like All-Ireland contenders -- but only in patches.



Execution

For the rest of those matches, they've mixed a bit of everything but enough bad stuff that one of the 'big three' would likely take advantage if they went that far.

Shot selection and execution was a major, major problem in the first half against Monaghan yet some of the long-range, angled points they did score almost made the miscues worth the risk.

John Doyle is the classic example. His work-rate (a new dimension to his game in the last three years) is exceptional and his creativity in possession is, at times, sublime, yet he has kicked a fair stack of wides in this year's championship.

By contrast, almost everything James Kavanagh hit last week went straight over the bar and if one or two other Kildare players can hit that sort of scoring streak and prolong it, they will take serious stopping.

Eamon Callaghan's posting in the 'Mikey Conway' role as a creative half-back is an interesting experiment which has paid dividends for McGeeney too. In fact, his entire half-back line were so dynamic in possession against Monaghan, they almost looked like Tyrone.

Against that, the Meath half-forward unit are as prolific as any in Ireland so greater care will have to be given to the defensive side of things from the opposing Kildare unit and the Royals always come with the qualifier that if their multi-talented forward line all hit fire at the same time, they could beat anyone.

League meetings between these two over the last two seasons have been quite lively so expect that sort of a match, with Kildare prospering by a narrow margin.

Meath: B Murphy; C O'Connor, K Reilly, E Harrington; A Moyles, G O'Brien, C King; N Crawford, B Meade; S Kenny, J Sheridan, G Reilly; C Ward, S O'Rourke, S Bray.

Kildare: S McCormack; P Kelly, H McGrillen, A Mac Lochlainn; M O'Flaherty, E Bolton, B Flanagan; D Flynn, D Earley; J Kavanagh, P O'Neill, E O'Flaherty; J Doyle, A Smith, E Callaghan.

ODDS: Kildare EVS, Draw 7/1, Meath 11/10.

VERDICT: Kildare


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