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Lilies find the answer

THE Kildare players were just making sure their seatbelts were correctly fastened and chairs in their fully upright positions for their flight home from Portugal on Sunday when the greeting came from the cockpit.

"Good afternoon. This is your captain - Sam Maguire ... "

After a tough week of incessant drills, tactics and video sessions, it provided a welcome slice of comic relief as they prepared to head for home and back to engage the summer they hope will be theirs.

"Aer Lingus flight home from Portugal flown by Cpt. Sam Maguire. Omen?," tweeted defender, Hugh McGrillen, although a few others suspected a rat.

Whatever... it brought back to mind what they had spent the week preparing for -- and it wasn't next Sunday's League Division 2 final with Tyrone.

Given that Kieran McGeeney was visibly the most underwhelmed man in Salthill the day promotion was secured with a last minute John Doyle penalty, it's not pushing the boat out to surmise that a tokenistic title such as the Division 2 crown holds little interest for him, except possibly another day out in Croke Park and a chance to put in practice what they were honing on the training field last week.

"The fact that we got promoted is great and we'll do our best to win on Sunday but you have to have one eye on the championship at all times. That's what it's about for us," says selector, Niall Carew.

McGeeney himself said as much after the rest of Pearse Stadium had caught breath after the draw with Galway.

Clearly, he was more perplexed with the collective brain freeze which had afflicted his players for the majority of the second half -- a spell which smashed the lead built by some of the most clinical, fluid football Kildare have played all year -- than he was about the positive ramifications of the result.

"The last five games, we won four and drew one. It was pleasing for us," says Carew, echoing McGeeney's understated satisfaction. "We tried different things out in the League so it is good for confidence.


"But one of the most pleasing things," he adds, "is that we finished top scorers in Division 1 and 2. For every other pundit who says we don't have forwards... it's nice."

Carew's point is well-made. After three goalless League matches and two defeats, Kildare went and scored nine in their final four games.

The prevailing cliché about Kildare is that their lack of 'natural' forwards will always hinder their bid to break into football's elite.

But they have consistently been amongst the top scorers in each of the past three summers and more likely bad injuries to key men and a handful of wrong refereeing decisions have colluded to stunt their growth. The 9-105 they tallied in the League topped everyone in the country bar Fermanagh and Wexford.

Within that, James Kavanagh managed three goals, Morgan O'Flaherty and John Doyle two each -- as did Emmet Bolton, unveiling another key facet of this Kildare team.

They possess the most prolific defence in Ireland with Bolton's 2-2 pailing in insignificance to the contribution of Eoghan O'Flaherty's 0-28 -- 11 of which came from play.

"Unless we win something," Carew says, "people will say we don't have a classy forward. But we would be very confident in our own players. We would feel that we have proved we have as good a set of forwards that can match any team in the country. But you have to win something of note, like a Leinster championship or an All- Ireland to break that opinion of us."

On the injury front, the clouds are clearing and there is no end to the benefits of having a fit-again Dermot Early, who made a difference in Galway after his introduction at full-forward.

Daryll Flynn is back and Hughie Lynch should be available by the time Kildare meet Offaly in June while Mikey Conway's comeback after two years out can only be described as a complete success, orchestrating the attack from centre-forward and pitching in with a welcome dose of scores.

"That can be luck as well as anything else," notes Carew of their current, healthy state -- a marked contrast to the past two springs.

"They're the lucky breaks you can get as well. The lads coming back from long-term rehab worked very hard so we're close to picking from a full deck."

So Kildare do finally break their Leinster duck or even go on to September, next Sunday and Tyrone will hardly be remembered as a major road sign along the way.