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The need for speed


10 March 2013; Jack McCaffrey, Dublin. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Kildare v Dublin, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

10 March 2013; Jack McCaffrey, Dublin. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Kildare v Dublin, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

10 March 2013; Jack McCaffrey, Dublin. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Kildare v Dublin, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

SIX full weeks down and we're still waiting for the football championship to catch fire. To date, in fact, it's been totally eclipsed by the stars of the small ball. Is that all about to change in Croke Park tomorrow?

That, you suspect, will depend on which Kildare team turns up. Will it be the the gung-ho version of last January, which went to extra-time before edging out an experimental Dublin, as Leinster's two finest produced one of those occasional O'Byrne Cup classics that creep up when you when least expected?

If so, fasten your seat belts ...

Of will it be the wilting Lilies who were plucked apart in the league last March? The final margin was 13 points, 2-20 to 2-7, and even that didn't quantify the extent of Dublin's utter dominance – or Kildare's complete dishevelment – especially once the wind-backed Blues upped the second-half ante.

In truth, if Bernard Brogan had brought his prolific A-game to Croker on that perishing afternoon, and if the Dublin defence hadn't gone walkabout to concede a late second goal, the margin could have been 20 points.

Surely it's impossible to believe that Kildare will be so acquiescent tomorrow?

For the record, we doubt it. Why? Because it's now put-up or shut-up time for Team Geezer, even if the team itself has been radically altered via the transfusion of youth this year.

They need to make a statement of intent against Dublin.

It's true that their early-season league promise fizzled out in the second half of their campaign; it's true that they had the worst defensive record in Division One (and the third-worst across all four divisions); it's true that they bucked the top-flight trend by 'only' beating a promoted Division Four side, namely Offaly, by four points in their Leinster opener.

For all these understandable caveats, our suspicion is that Kildare will be sufficiently feisty tomorrow to make Dublin sweat for their Leinster final place.



Moreover, it wouldn't remotely surprise us if Kieran McGeeney's decision to seek out the coaching acumen of Jason Ryan was at least partly predicated on the consistent success of his Wexford team in stifling Pat Gilroy's Dublin (even if they never quite crossed the Rubicon).

So then, have Kildare spent the past few months and weeks fine-tuning a secret master plan to take out the Dubs? Perhaps. Even the fact they've faced Mayo and Kerry in two recent high-octane challenge matches suggests that their season has been geared towards this one pivotal moment.

By all accounts, the meeting with Mayo in Longford was a cracking contest only won at the death by a goal from the Connacht champions.

The Lilywhite grapevine suggests that their men tore into Kerry in a very physical contest last Saturday – an augury of things to come in Croker? Perhaps, although the collateral damage has left Ollie Lyons with a dislocated shoulder, which means he can't reprise his usual man-marking job on Brogan.

The Kildare team, announced yesterday morning, shows just one change with Morgan O'Flaherty recalled in place of the stricken Lyons.

That hasn't stemmed speculation of further alterations. If Tomas O'Connor's recent omission from the 'A' team in training is a reliable yardstick, the target man could yet find himself excluded with Sean Hurley reportedly pressing hard for a start.

Perhaps the big fear for Kildare fans is what happens if all their under-21 brigade (five or even six-strong) freeze in the spotlight of such a massive occasion. Then again, it's not as if Dublin aren't without a handful of rookie recruits who are relatively new to this rarefied level.

Therein lies the big X-factor tomorrow, even if this new-look Dublin have eventually come up with the right answers when the hard questions were posed by Donegal in Ballybofey and Tyrone in the league final.

Ultimately, even if Kildare hit top gear, our belief is that Jim Gavin's beguiling blend of proven All-Ireland winners and talented young guns will eventually prevail. Their form so far this year means you cannot bet against them, not yet at least.

When they don't have the ball, they have displayed a demonic workrate, applying heat on the man in possession ... just ask a succession of frazzled Westmeath men.

And when they have it? No team can match them for blinding pace – an un-coachable quality they possess in every line, be it Jonny Cooper in the full-backs or Jack McCaffrey/ James McCarthy at half-back (take your pick!) or Cian O'Sullivan at midfield or a variety of speed merchants up front, Paul Mannion probably the most lightning example.

The forwards aren't just fast; they're free-scoring. They have been totting up impressive tallies right through spring. Even when one of their marquee men has a quiet day, you'll find a handful of enviable options among the subs.

And that Dublin bench press, if it comes to that, should propel them safely home.

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Dublin 1/4, Draw 10/1, Kildare 4/1