Dublin's desire to prove class can see off KildareTRYING to second guess what happens under the Croker spotlights tonight is not as straight forward as originally it might seem.
Dublin are favourites, for multiple valid reasons, yet there are several imponderables and contradictory back stories at play here. Just consider the following ...
(1) Dublin hammered Kildare by 13 points in last year's corresponding league fixture and by 16 points when they met in a Leinster semi-final.
CONCLUSION: There's a massive gulf between our champions and pretenders.
(2) Dublin aren't playing within the same fluency of 12 months ago. After three league rounds, they are averaging just over 15 points per game, compared to over 18 points at the same juncture last year. They have managed just two goals (compared to four majors 12 months ago) and none in their last two outings.
CONCLUSION: The 1/3 favourites could actually be vulnerable here.
(3) Vulnerable, against that Kildare defence? A team that has conceded 5-50 (almost 22 points per game) in their last three outings?
CONCLUSION: Just imagine what Cormac Costello, Ciarán Kilkenny and Kevin McManamon might do if those Lilywhite backs continue in the same gift-bearing vein.
(4) Steady on: the Dublin full-back line didn't exactly look watertight against Cork last weekend and now they face a forward line that has been scoring for fun throughout the opening months of 2014. We'll discount the 14 goals and 82 points amassed on their five-game run to the O'Byrne Cup title ... but you cannot ignore the 4-52 already tallied in the league. That's over 21 points per game – six points above the current Sky Blue average.
CONCLUSION: Bring your calculator this evening.
(5) Okay, so maybe Eoghan O'Flaherty, Paddy Brophy et al will require extra-close attention ... but how will the Kildare minds be after last Sunday's horror show ending against Tyrone?
To concede two goals in the last 90 seconds of a game where you are five up and cruising could be deemed, not just misfortunate, but a careless folly.
Jason Ryan must accentuate the many positives of Newbridge last Sunday, but the fact remains that Kildare spurned two points through a mixture of sloppiness (the first goal stemmed from a stray sideline pass by the otherwise superb Seán Hurley) and being too nice (black card or otherwise, would Tyrone have allowed Kildare's Mattie Donnelly equivalent run so far with the ball in the lead-up to goal number two?).
CONCLUSION: Hard to tell, but their response to that surreal climax will be pivotal in deciding whether the Lilies wilt or bloom against their Sky Blue nemesis.
Truth is, you can't ignore the psychological factor for Kildare given how they imploded – twice – against Dublin last season.
Earlier this week, The Herald spoke to retired Kildare star Ronan Sweeney, who appeared off the bench in last year's league mismatch. Sweeney didn't feature in the subsequent championship game, when Kildare accelerated from the traps with an unanswered 1-2 only to be subsequently blown away. We wondered if some old doubts resurfaced once Dublin got motoring?
"I think it probably would have played in lads' heads – if not consciously, then subconsciously it would be there – that this team is after beating us by 13 points and they're capable of just exploding with six or seven points in the space of 10 minutes," Sweeney admitted.
"So, it kind of makes teams stand off a little bit. Where you'd be wary of them.
"I think they just totally steamrolled us that day ... we just couldn't get near them at all," added the former midfielder/half-forward.
So far this season, Dublin have only 'steamrolled' in sporadic bursts ... but even in rare defeat last Saturday, we had a glimpse of just how ruthless Jim Gavin's men can be when the mood takes them.
Having watched their defensive colleagues leak the first two scores to Cork, Messrs McManamon, Kilkenny (two apiece) and Costello (three) proceeded to amass 0-7 from play in the next six minutes.
Dublin couldn't sustain that metronomic rate, 13 wides contributing to their eventual two-point loss. But, in the same way that Kildare will wish to atone for the trauma of Tyrone, the All-Ireland champions will be keen to bounce back post-Cork ... and equally keen to show they haven't lost the fizz and fluency of 2013.
That, we suspect, could be the clincher.
ODDS: Dublin 1/3, Draw 10/1, Kildare 3/1