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Kelly confident Lilies in bloom

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Peter Kelly, Kildare. Picture: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Peter Kelly, Kildare. Picture: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Peter Kelly, Kildare. Picture: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

"A FREAK team", is how Peter Kelly describes Kildare's U21s this year.

And presumably, their freakishly impressive dimensions are only part of that particular assessment.

"I don't feel young anymore when I look around and see these boys, 18, 19 coming up," says the former All Star corner-back. "They're probably bigger than a lot of the older lads too, they're a freak team in that respect and they're really driving the rest of us on.

"There's been no transition period with them at all, a lot of lads it takes them some time to find their feet and they're kind of afraid to get stuck into older lads but want their position and there's no holding back with them, which is great."

Kelly's point is well made, even if the U21 All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Galway threw up questions of temperament and finesse of at least some of the group.

It is highly unusual for so many to be exposed so nakedly to senior football so soon, just as a cluster of the Kildare U21 gang have this season but even with six starting against Tyrone in the League semi-final, most held their own.

"They're brilliant footballers the whole lot of them and they seem to have a high level of maturity," insists Kelly.

"It doesn't matter who they're marking, they just get stuck in. There's no respect there for big names ... yeah, no holding back."

Their emergence means there is much change to the Kildare team which overpowered Offaly in Portlaoise in the Championship last year yet arguably, the greatest difference in Croke Park tomorrow could be from Offaly, a team not just under new management but who have also adopted – successfully, it must be said – a whole new philosophy. "It should be a lot tighter," predicts Kelly. "They're after re-grouping, they've got a new management team and got to a league final and are moving well. They have their set-up now, everyone knows their job and they're a lot more defensive so they'll be a lot harder to break down. We're expecting a battle.

"There's a lot of freshness in their team because, like us, they've brought in a lot of young lads. They're not going to be afraid of us. Last year was last year, we're all starting afresh, at the bottom of the ladder again.

"But our main focus is on our own game," Kelly adds. "Offaly play a very defensive set-up but we're kinda used to that because a lot of teams have played like that over the last few years so we usually concentrate on our own game and our own set-up."

KIERAN McGEENEY has placed his trust in youth for tomorrow's Offaly showdown, with five members of the Kildare U21 team that achieved Leinster glory this spring handed their first SFC starts - 'keeper Mark Donnellan, Daniel Flynn (who partners the fit-again Daryl Flynn at midfield), Paul Cribbin and Niall Kelly in the half-forward line along with Paddy Brophy at corner-forward. Eamonn Callaghan will skipper the Lilywhites from centre-back.

OFFALY have named three SFC debutants for tomorrow's Croker clash - Dáithí Brady and Eoin Carroll in defence plus Johnny Brickland at centre-forward - while David Hanlon will make his first start after appearing off the bench against the Lilies last summer.

KILDARE (SF v Offaly): M Donnellan; P Kelly, M Foley, H McGrillen; E Doyle, E Callaghan, E Bolton; Daryl Flynn, Daniel Flynn; P Cribbin, N Kelly, E O'Flaherty; J Doyle, T O'Connor, P Brophy.

OFFALY (SF v Kildare): A Mulhall; B Darby, P McConway, D Brady; E Carroll, S Sullivan, M Brazil; A McNamee, B Connor; G Guilfoyle, J Brickland, D Hanlon; A Sullivan, N McNamee, K Casey.

DERRY (SF v Down): E McNicholl; G O'Kane, C McKaigue, R Scott; C Kielt, M Lynch, SL McGoldrick; Patsy Bradley, R Bell; A McAlynn, J Kielt, E Lynn; B Heron, E Bradley, C Devlin.

DOWN (SF): B McVeigh; D McCartan, B McArdle, R Boyle; D Rooney, P Turley, K Quinn; A Rogers, K McKernan; N Madine, M Poland, B Coulter; D O'Hare, K King, C Laverty.


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