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Sweeney: Beware the Dubs

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Paul Flynn. Picture: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

Paul Flynn. Picture: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

Paul Flynn. Picture: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

DURING his 14 years as a Kildare senior footballer, Ronan Sweeney enjoyed countless collisions with the Dubs. His last on-field involvement, though, was more about endurance than enjoyment.

Sweeney didn't feature in last summer's Leinster semi-final mismatch but he was among the match-day subs for their Allianz League encounter at Croke Park, almost 12 months ago to the day.

One can only wonder what the Moorefield man was thinking, warming up on a freezing March afternoon, while out on the field Dublin had scored the last 1-11 without reply. By the time Sweeney entered the fray as a 57th-minute substitute, all Kildare could pray for was damage limitation.

"As far as I remember from the league game, we started particularly well," he recalls, almost ruefully, in conversation with The Herald this week. "Then Dublin did their usual thing, where they just came out and blitzed us at the start of the second half.

"They scored four or five points on the trot, and all of a sudden then we were seven or eight points down. We weren't the only team for that to happen last year, but the game was over then."

Sweeney's swan song campaign in white was blighted by two crushing Dublin defeats – that 13-point league reversal and a 16-point championship trimming.

This was the first time he had encountered Jim Gavin's Dublin, and what immediately struck the veteran campaigner was their sheer size.

"They were much stronger than any other year I'd seen them; they were a lot more powerful. Huge legs. They were full of running," he recounts.

"Particularly in the championship game, I think we started six U21 players that day and we were really steamrolled, to be honest with you. They scored four goals – it could have been five or six, seven even.

"They were probably getting stronger and stronger every year for the last couple of years, but just on those particular two days, I noticed some of them were just monsters really. Paul Flynn, for example, and (Michael Darragh) Macauley were really looking huge... they kind of bullied Kildare a little bit."

Today, Sweeney is a retired inter-county footballer and a new entrant to the world of management, acting as assistant to Niall Carew in Waterford.

Last Sunday he was enduring another one of those league Sundays best wiped from the memory (a 14-point defeat in Antrim) but an early 1pm throw-in at least allowed him to follow some of Kildare's second-half exploits against Tyrone via Twitter.

And it was all going swimmingly until the final couple of minutes when disaster – on the double – struck.

Somehow, in the space of 80 surreal seconds, Kildare turned a richly deserved five-point victory into a soul-destroying one-point defeat.

When Sweeney got home he tuned into a recording because "I just wanted to see what happened."

He is adamant that Jason Ryan and his players must accentuate the many positives of last Sunday, without ignoring the defensive frailties exposed.

"There are lots of positives in all the games so far this season," he maintains. "I think they scored 14 goals in the O'Byrne Cup, which is something Kildare haven't really been doing over the last few years.

FLIP SIDE

"And even in all the league games, they've scored a goal and they're averaging 20 points a game, which is great going. I think these new rules suit Kildare, the way they play. But they're still conceding 21 points in the league! That's the flip side to it.

"It's going to be an interesting game actually, on Saturday, because the Dubs are probably not as free-flowing as they were this time last year certainly.

"They haven't scored a goal in their last two games, which is unusual for them. I think their average score is about 15 points."

What happens, though, if Dublin's attack choose this Saturday as the night to reignite?

Sweeney is concerned that Kildare's defence has been "a little bit wide-open" when teams run at them – and also by the concession of cheap frees.

"They're excellent at the moment with the ball, but without the ball they're just coughing up too many scores," he laments.

A Leinster winner as a young rookie in 2000, Sweeney will make his debut as a TV match analyst in the Setanta studios this weekend.

He reckons the best way to stop Dublin is to "upset" Stephen Cluxton's kickouts, as Kerry and Meath managed at times last summer... then you should be "halfway to competing" with them.

He also hopes his old comrades can batten down the defensive hatches because history has taught him that a Dublin team facing Leinster rivals in Croke Park "want to beat them, and beat them by as much as they can, to try and keep them down".

Last year's league collapse "certainly knocked us back and left us all scratching our heads a little bit, because we thought it was a good time to play them."

This time Kildare are forewarned; now they need to be forearmed too.


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