Meath and Kildare struggle to convince
MEATH and Kildare -- potential All-Ireland semi-finalists? Serious challengers to Dublin's dominance in Leinster? Not if league form has anything to do with it.
The two major rivals to the Dubs for provincial honours are marooned in mid-table mediocrity in Division 2 of the National Football League.
Tomorrow at Navan they will go through the motions of completing their round-seven commitments with little more than pride at stake. So, it's lucky for Meath and Kildare that they have another few weeks for injured stars to heal before the provincial campaign begins.
These two proud football teams and their supporters will be consoled by the belief that only championship intensity brings out the best in them.
That's just as well, because their league performances have been patchy and mixed, to say the least. Indeed, the Division 2 journey of the Lilywhites and the Royals bears significant similarities, with each county winning three and losing three over the last eight weeks.
Supporters will hope that traditional rivalry will inspire a decent showing from the two teams tomorrow, but there are no guarantees from two inconsistent sides, as is revealed by a brief review of their respective league performances.
Kildare 0-8 Down 1-16
The Lilies have Gary White and Daryl Flynn sent off and are no match for Down. Kieran McGeeney says: "I talked about discipline. I'm sick talking about it and we lost two players again. That's two performances like that in a row (after the O'Byrne Cup). I must be speaking French before the games because they're definitely not listening."
Tipperary 0-8 Kildare 1-17
McGeeney hails Daryl Flynn as "immense" and praises his full-back line of Andrew Mac-Lochlainn, Hugh McGrillen, and Emmet Bolton.
Kidare 1-17 Donegal 1-9
McGeeney is happy with the discipline and quips: "We got them a translation book. They're starting to understand some of it, but it can change quickly."
Armagh 0-12 Kildare 0-5
Crestfallen McGeeney shows he not only speaks French, but he has psychic powers too, as the feel-good factor of the Donegal win turns to gloom.
Kildare 1-11 Westmeath 2-7
Honest McGeeney says: "Two positives would be that we came from five points behind at half time to win, and we won the game playing poorly."
Laois 0-13 Kildare 0-9
McGeeney's verdict: "We made their defence look spectacular. Some of our decision-making was poor and we're not happy with our performance at all."
So not much to shout about in those six matches for the Kildare supporters but Meath were equally inconsistent.
Meath 2-8 Armagh 0-13
Eamonn O'Brien says: "We need to be able to take more chances that we create. But everything else was very good, and that's what kept us in it when things weren't going well."
Down 0-12 Meath 0-8
The Royals are only a point behind at half-time, but can't match workmanlike Down in the second period.
Meath 1-12 Westmeath 2-8
O'Brien says: "We were lucky to come away with two points. Probably Westmeath should have won the game. At this level of football you can take nobody for granted."
Tipperary 1-9 Meath 0-10
Meath fight hard to try and retrieve the game after a 55th-minute penalty scored by Tipp's John Grogan gives the home side a crucial edge.
Meath 0-13 Laois 1-9
Shane O'Rourke makes his first competitive start in two years, scores two points, and helps liven up the Meath attack in a tight match.
Donegal 1-12 Meath 0-10
Two men sent off -- Peadar Byrne before half-time and Brian Meade 13 minutes before the end -- proves the difference between the Royals getting something out of the match and losing.
After their training camp in Portugal last week, Meath should be refreshed and eager for the fray. Cormac McGuinness (hamstring), David Bray (knee) and Ollie Lewis (hamstring), plus long-term hamstring injury victim Niall McKeigue, are on the injury list for Meath.
In the long term, Kildare expect to have Mikey Conway (knee) and Dermot Earley fit for the championship clash in June against either Louth or Longford and they should start in a challenge game against Sligo on May 16.