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McGeeney's faith in youth to bear fruit when Lilies prune Offalymen

IT'S clear now, if it wasn't already, where Kieran McGeeney intends to find the ingredients which were so obviously missing from his Kildare cocktail last year.

Five championship debutants is a significant number for any county, let alone one who have consistently made the All-Ireland quarter-finals for the last five years and could hardly have been described as old in the first place, but it was clear from the Meath and Cork defeats last season that Kildare weren't at the level they themselves had probably expected.

It helps, of course, that these players have significant spring game time behind them. Similarly, it is hugely convenient that all are already physically assembled for the more manic rigours of senior inter-county football.

It is beneficial too, that they have a Leinster under-21 medal from earlier this year and how better to heal the scars of their All-Ireland semi-final loss and all the wides contained within than go straight into a senior team and win Leinster?

Because that is exactly where Kildare's priorities must lie. For all their consistencies in the qualifiers, Kildare have appeared in just one Leinster final in McGeeney's five-year stretch and not even the presence of a particularly dominant Dublin team can be blamed.

Thrice, they have exited their provincial surrounds with a whimper, to Wicklow in McGeeney's first year, Louth in 2010 and Meath last season, despite subsequently going on to outlast each of their assailants in the Championship.

Of the debutants, perhaps the loudest buzz in Kildare is over the potential of Niall Kelly, a young man already considered to be the most skillful forward in the county, one of those balanced, two-footed forwards, as creative as he is prolific, who always seems to have time on the ball.

Daniel Flynn – who is rumored to be coveted by at least one AFL team with whom he may be linking up at the end of the season – has also been a revelation at wing-forward, although he has been named at midfield alongside Daryl Flynn for today's clash with Offaly.

Indeed, there might have been six debutants had Seán Hurley not been dropped from the squad earlier this week to play with the county's juniors.


Offaly, meanwhile, felt the full force of Kildare's power last year in Portlaoise but have, under Emmet McDonnell this year, realised the harsh realities of modern football and the process of dealing with its intricacies start in defence.

Eoin Carroll, Dáithí Brady and Johnny Brickland will all make their senior championship debuts for the Faithful this evening while David Hanlon, who played a substitute's role against Kildare last summer, starts for the very first time.

With Niall McNamee, Ken Casey and Anton Sullivan in tandem in attack, Offaly should at least have enough firepower to ourscore the paltry six points they managed to tally in Portlaoise last year but movement, fitness and support play have, during McGeeney's reign, been Kildare's most productive assets and merely congregating in numbers behind the ball won't be enough to stop them scoring heavily in Croke Park.

McGeeney also has a bench filled with quality and experience if they encounter unforeseen problems or any of his debutants finds the occasion too hectic to handle and while it is unlikely they will enjoy the 13-point margin of last year's mismatch, Kildare should still prevail with something to spare.

KILDARE: M Donnellan; P Kelly, M Foley, H McGrillen; E Doyle, E Callaghan, E Bolton; Daryl Flynn, Daniel Flynn; P Cribben, N Kelly, E O'Flaherty; J Doyle, T O'Connor, P Brophy.

OFFALY: 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.

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Kildare 1/14, Draw 16/1, Offaly 10/1

VERDICT: Kildare