ONE alteration on the starting team to face Meath - but definitely no change of free-taker. That’s the message from the Kildare camp ahead of Sunday’s mouth-watering All-Ireland SFC quarter- final at Croke Park.
Kieran McGeeney has handed Eoghan O’Flaherty his big starting chance in attack following some eyecatching interventions off the bench, especially against Monaghan last weekend. While O’Flaherty takes the place of Ken Donnelly, the Kildare management team has insisted that Johnny Doyle remains their first-choice deadball specialist.
This follows last Saturday’s surprising bout of squandermania from the veteran skipper, who tallied six first half wides and seven in total, including four from placed balls. “Johnny Doyle is one of the best free-takers in the country” said selector Niall Carew. “Anyone can have an off-day and Johnny did, but we won’t be changing our freetaker against Meath. Johnny is the man for us.”
After the captain’s first half travails against Monaghan, the in-form James Kavanagh briefly took over deadball duties to convert a sublime effort with the outside of his right boot - but Doyle was back on frees later in the half, converting his second of the day.
The player himself, meanwhile, has rubbished speculation that he may have altered his kicking style in the wake of a coaching session from Irish rugby out-half Ronan O’Gara earlier this season.
The Munster No 10 conducted a specialist place-kicking session with Doyle before the start of the championship, but Kildare’s chief marksman insists that he hasn’t changed a thing.
“It wasn’t the greatest day in front of the goals but that’s the way it goes,” Doyle said of last week’s performance. “That’s the beauty of it, no matter what people say. We’ve a lot of lads that get the ball and are well capable of putting it over the bar. Once we get over the line as a team, that’s all that’s important.”
He added: “I missed three (frees) in the first half and one with my left foot in the second half, none of them that easy, and there was a bit of a swirling wind. I struck them well and was just unfortunate. That’s the way it goes.
“I keep the same routine. Everyone will miss. It’s just to make sure (you convert) the bread-and-butter ones you should be kicking. I’ll get the head down and work hard and I’ll be back kicking them well again,” he promised. Doyle remains the championship’s top scorer with 1-35, six points ahead of Dublin marksman Bernard Brogan (2-26). But as recent outings have underlined, Kildare are not totally reliant on their veteran No 13 - Eamonn Callaghan scored 1-4 from play against Derry while Kavanagh led the way with 0-5 (1f ) against Monaghan.
Potential worries ahead of facing an unchanged Meath team include their propensity for slow starts and scattergun shooting - reflected in 16 wides against Monaghan - but as Doyle insisted: “There’s a bit of belief there, we don’t panic. If things aren’t going the way we want them, we keep the shoulder to the wheel and keep working hard and eventually things open up.”
O’Flaherty - a former U21 star and brother of wing-back Morgan - is named at left half-forward on the strength of last weekend’s 0-2 haul coming off the bench.
The colleague he replaced against Monaghan, Donnelly, has been playing through a cruciate ligament injury but is now held in reserve.
The evergreen Anthony Rainbow, who has missed the qualifier run with a leg injury, is now fit to resume on the bench.
KILDARE (SFC v Meath): 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.
MEATH (SFC v Kildare): 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.