Royals have motivation to derail the Ryan express
Traditional rivalry between Kildare and Meath adds extra bite to final showdown
IT'S far too early in the year to be reading too much into results, and tomorrow's O'Byrne Cup final between Kildare and Meath in Newbridge is something of a phoney war.
But given their traditional rivalry and current standings on the Leinster ladder neither of them will want to lightly concede the early season bragging rights.
Both have been looking at a clean pair of Dublin heels for far too long now and need some new impetus.
Meath pushed the All-Ireland champions closer than the seven-point losing margin would suggest in last summer's Leinster final, compared to the 16-point drubbing that left such a stain on the Lilywhites' reputation.
Given the mauling that Kildare suffered in the summer after beating Dublin in extra-time in last year's O'Byrne Cup final, they probably won't lose sleep if they retain their title or lose it in what is their fourth consecutive decider in this competition.
They have certainly started like a train under new manager Jason Ryan.
He has made some hard calls already – Rob Kelly was among those cut when he reduced his panel last week – and they have racked up some mind-boggling scores, including their 5-17 to 2-11 defeat of UCD in the semi-final.
They have scored a whopping 13-72 in four games and Padraig Fogarty's early season tally of 6-5 (4-3 v UCD), showed he's keen to prove that 2012 was not his false dawn.
Meath, despite a raft of injuries, have got the depth to cope, and Darroch Mulhall and Tommy Moolick are among those looking to make a breakthrough now. Mick O'Dowd got them promoted to Division 2 in his first year in charge and they have started his second impressively.
They beat DCU (who had knocked out Dublin) by an astonishing 4-18 to 3-6 and scored four goals in two other games also, with a tally of 12-58 to date.
All of that is marked by an 'early-season' warning sticker and the surprising feebleness of some of the opposition, which included Carlow, DIT and Wicklow.
Fringe players like Caolan Young, Andrew Tormey, David Larkin and Dalton McDonagh have been given a chance to impress and the latter, from Enfield club Na Fianna, has done that so far.
The half-forward line tomorrow is particularly experimental and includes Simonstown's Padraig McKeever, who is just out of the U-21 ranks. Cillian O'Sullivan, who is still an U-21, is another getting his chance.
They're without college-tied Bryan Menton (DIT) and Padraic Harnan and Brian Meade is out until the championship (cruciate).
Meade's loss is balanced out by the long-awaited return to the squad of Shane O'Rourke, who has played three of their four O'Byrne Cup games; Tormey, a regular replacement for Meade last summer, is another being groomed for midfield.
Veterans Graham Reilly and Seamus Kenny are still involved but Ciaran Lenehan, Joe Sheridan, Brian Farrell and Peadar Byrne are out of the frame as O'Dowd continues to put his stamp on the team.
Kevin Reilly is carrying a knock which they don't want to risk before their league opener and they've made a raft of changes for tomorrow but their full-forward line – Eamonn Wallace, Stephen Bray and Mickey Newman – indicates that they are serious here.
Kildare host Mayo this day week in their league opener while Meath are at home to Galway in Division 2.
It's 25 years since these two faced off in an O'Byrne final which Kildare won and while their league starts are far more important for both, victory here would be a fillip to Meath.
They haven't won a trophy since the Leinster title in 2010, so a bit of silverware, however inconsequential in the long run, would probably mean more to them.
MEATH (SF v Kildare) – C McHugh; D Keogan, M Burke, C Young; D Dalton, E Harrington, P Gilsenan; C Gillespie, A Tormey; P McKeever, D McDonagh, D Larkin; E Wallace, S Bray, M Newman.
KILDARE – M Donnellan; M O'Grady, M Foley, H McGrillen; D Hyland, E Bolton, P Cribbin; T Moolick, G White; C McNally, E O'Flaherty, S Hurley; P Brophy, D Mulhall, P Fogarty.