Kingdom's greater need will overwhelm whatever the Lilywhites bring to the table

All-Ireland SFC quarter-final Group 1 Round 3, Kerry v Kildare, Saturday, July 4, Fitzgerald Stadium, 6pm

Kildare manager Cian O'Neill
Kildare manager Cian O'Neill

Damian Stack

This will be one of the oddest championship matches ever played in the history of the GAA.

Never before in the history of the competition will a team go to battle with absolutely nothing on the line. It's antithetical to everything we've been reared on. Championship football by definition meant that both teams started on an equal footing. Not even the introduction of the qualifiers changed that essential fact.

On Saturday evening, however, Kildare will have nothing to play for except for pride itself and even then will any great shame be attached to a defeat in a match where they've nothing tangible to play for?

Probably not and that changes the calculation considerably. Kildare will, no doubt, want to round out their season on a high. They'll want to maintain as much of the momentum they generated in 'Newbridge or Nowhere' as possible into the winter months.

All this week they'll be telling themselves this. They might even tell themselves that being the team to knock Kerry out of the championship is a scalp worth taking in and of itself. They might even believe it, they probably do believe it and, yet, when push comes to shove will they have the desire?

Will they have the desire to dig deep when the pressure comes on in the second half against a side scrapping for their championship lives? It's possible, absolutely it's possible, but we somewhat doubt it at the same time.

There has to come a point where the futility of the task at hand catches up with the Lilywhites. There has to come a time when Kerry push one or two points clear and the response just isn't there from the men in white.

Necessity is the mother of all invention. Kerry have need. Kildare do not. Sometimes it's that simple. Had Kildare something to play for we'd be more than a little wary of what they might bring to beauty's home.

Despite not having a point to their name Cian O'Neill's men actually played better than Kerry have done over the opening two rounds. What they found in Newbridge against Mayo hasn't deserted the Lillies.

They're a strong, powerful running side with the capacity to score and hurt defences. They've a lot of the attributes that might just trouble this Kerry side... if they had something to play for, but they don't.

Even the loss through suspension of their talisman Daniel Flynn is a blow to whatever ambitions they might have for the game or whatever feeling of defiance they might have had coming to Fitzgerald Stadium.

It's even possible that O'Neill will look to shake up his starting fifteen considerably, giving more peripheral members of the squad some much-needed game-time. To be honest we don't see that happening, but we couldn't rule it out at the same time.

Whatever Kildare come with and whatever frame of mind they come in, Kerry will still have to be absolutely focussed on the job at hand. It's fair enough for fans on the terrace to be glancing every five minutes at Twitter to see how things are going in Salthill, but it can't even for a moment enter into players' minds.

Kerry will have to play what's in front of them and let the chips fall what way they may in the City of the Tribes. To be fair we'd have no real fear on those grounds. These players know the stakes, know their jobs. With some much out of their hands, these Kerry players will want to control what they can control.

We'd expect the slight uptick in performance between the Galway and the Monaghan matches to continue too. The performance in Clones wasn't brilliant, but it was better than what we saw in Croke Park.

Kerry were more positive, more energetic - those younger players really carried the team - and more purposeful up front largely thanks to the promptings of Seán O'Shea in the number eleven shirt.

In certain respects the defence was improved too - Ronan Shanahan has always done his stuff - despite the first half malfunction when the management team opted to put Mark Griffin on man-marking duty against Conor McManus. We can expect the defence to improve further still if Jason Foley and Tadhg Morley return from injury.

The Kingdom can be considered somewhat lucky to still be in this championship given how they performed over the last two rounds. You do, of course, make your own luck, or in Kerry's case David Clifford (with a big assist from Kieran Donaghy) makes it for you.

All the same you do sometimes need a little luck in championship football. Kerry got their break in Clones. They've now got this game at home against Kildare to try to finesse whatever system it is the management are trying to implement.

Players out of form have the chance to find it anew. A team looking short on confidence has the chance to regain it. Kerry have been given a second chance. They must grab it, even knowing that whatever they do might not be enough.

Kerry will do what they need to do, they'll win by the five points they need. After that it's in the lap of the gods.

Verdict: Kerry

Kerryman

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