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'Kildare gunning for Dubs'


Dublin's John Cooper. Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile.

Dublin's John Cooper. Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile.

Dublin's John Cooper. Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile.

IN AN interview with this newspaper prior to Dublin's clash with Kildare in the League back in March, Barry Cahill summed up what, for him, was the crux of the rivalry between Leinster's top two.

"I don't think it's quite in the same league as Dublin and Meath," he stressed. "It doesn't have that history. Kildare are obviously on the up, but I still don't think they're quite at Dublin's level.

"The way Dublin looked up at Kerry for a number of years, I think that's how Kildare look up at Dublin. They're there sitting on a pedestal and Kildare are looking up trying to knock them off it."

A summary which, perhaps, Kildare players, their manager and supporters may not like very much ... but it's hard to argue the logic underpinning Cahill's theory.

Because the definition of a rivalry probably doesn't allow for such a weighed record on one of the sides, but it is sure to be as stormy and comprehensive a test of Jim Gavin's team – both its individual components and its sleek new alignment – as they're going to encounter this side of August.

"They'll be really gunning for it," acknowledged Jonny Cooper, his first Dublin summer start chalked off his career 'To Do' list during Saturday's leg-stretching exercise against Westmeath.

"We'll have to really pick it up in the next couple of weeks. It will be a totally different feel to the game in four weeks' time. I think we'll go out in a few weeks' time and it will be level pegging.

"They'll be gunning for us and likewise us for them. Look, it's always on the day and it's a new year, we have a new team. So it doesn't really matter who the form team is."

True ... but it is still all of 13 years since Kildare have beaten Dublin in a Leinster Championship match, the celebrated 2000 provincial final replay.

Since then, Dublin have taken a totalitarian approach to the rivalry, including inflicting two Leinster defeats during Kieran McGeeney's reign. First, in 2009, when Dublin won by three despite playing for almost 55 minutes with 14 men after Ger Brennan (who, along with Diarmuid Connolly, tends quite often to be a focal point for Kildare attention) was sent off for a straight red card. And again in the 2011 Leinster semi when Bernard Brogan's contentious late free ensured another Dublin victory.

Then, Pat Gilroy's team were creeping towards an All-Ireland, whereas now, Gavin's have exploded from the blocks and the League result between the combatants back in March doesn't do much to sway the argument that Kildare have gotten closer to, rather than further from, Dublin's level ... even if the Lilies have already recorded a victory over their bête noire on capital soil this year in the O'Byrne Cup final at the end of January.

Even at such an embryonic stage of the season, the exchanges that night in Parnell Park were flinty enough for Denis Bastick to lose his temper and pick up a straight red card, while Johnny Doyle was perhaps lucky to evade similar sanction.

Equally tempestuous was the O'Byrne Cup semi-final last year when Dublin arrived as All-Ireland Champions to a fiery welcome in Newbridge. Those few individuals who attended the refixed final of that particular competition (even the Kildare manager wasn't present and nor, for that matter, were most of his squad) when DCU mugged the Lilies in O'Moore Park with a last-second Philly McMahon goal, noted the level of off-the-ball activity and verbal 'interaction' between the college's large Dublin representation and some of Kildare's number.



"We have a couple of things to address over the next couple of weeks," reflected Cooper, who along with his team-mates, will sit largely idle on the county front for the best part of a month.

"It (his starting debut) went okay. Obviously we can improve in certain areas. I suppose the winning margin in the end was a positive thing," he conceded, adding that the knock he picked up in the first half was "just a bit of a dead calf ... nothing serious".

On that front, Gavin can be equally satisfied as Westmeath failed to inflict even collateral damage on Dublin.

Michael Darragh Macauley came off nursing a shoulder injury, but Gavin clarified afterwards that the Ballyboden midfielder "just got a knock, a guy pulled him back", while Kevin O'Brien was said to be a doubt heading into the match, but appeared as a second-half substitute and is now certain to be in the shake-up in a month's time. That just leaves Alan Brogan and Kevin McManamon on the injured list, the latter having a far greater chance than the former of being fit for Kildare's visit.

"It gives us a chance to look at the games and see where we can improve, so it's a positive and negative," reflected Cooper of the gap between his first and soon-to-be-second starts for Dublin in the Championship.

"We'll have a look at the video now and see where we can improve going into the Kildare game."