Are Kildare the Arsenal of the Championship?
THEY are always there or thereabouts and they'll attract their fair share of media attention. But, no matter how hard they try, silverware eludes them. It begs the question, are Kildare the Arsenal of the championship?
There are so many good things about this Kildare side. They are supremely fit, organised, dedicated and -- most importantly -- they have shown an admirable ability to find a way to win matches at the death, as demonstrated in Navan last weekend.
In Kieran McGeeney they have a manager the players will do anything for and, in turn, he has shown great faith in his squad. Hugh McGrillen is a case in point. He was better known as a midfielder for his club, but McGeeney saw something in McGrillen that made him believe he could mould him into a corner-back.
When he was hauled off just a few minutes into the 2009 Leinster final against Dublin, it looked like it wouldn't work, but who was surging forward to kick a brilliant second half point in the game in Navan last weekend after another good performance in the full-back line? You got it, McGrillen.
And then they have their exceptional players like Emmet Bolton, Eamonn O'Callaghan and of course, John Doyle, who could make a case for inclusion in just about any side in the country.
Still, a nagging doubt remains over Kildare and whether they have the quality to get over the finish line against the best teams. Navan is always difficult place to go to, yet the current Meath side isn't a vintage one, but still managed to ask the Lilies plenty of questions.
Until last year's win over Dublin, the same accusation could have been levelled at the Dubs, though they do have six of the last seven Leinster titles to fall back on.
Kildare have shown themselves capable of running up some big scores, but that seems to dry up alarmingly against the bigger teams as they showed with just 1-11 against 14-man Dublin in Croke Park earlier this year.
The deployment of Doyle at midfield is a case in point. He was top scorer in the championship last year, racking up even more than Footballer of the Year Bernard Brogan, and he's undoubtedly one of the best inside forwards in the game. Yet he's out foraging for possession in the middle third.
It's not only the lack of silverware that separates them from the rest of the top sides chasing Sam Maguire, it's also their results against the likes of Kerry, Cork and Dublin. And like Arsenal's, they don't reflect too favourably on the Lilies.
They've played against a 14-man Dublin side twice in recent seasons (the Leinster final of 2009 and the provincial semi-final of this year) and have failed to put them to the sword. Tyrone in 2009 also saw them off with a late surge. Twelve months earlier, Cork beat them at the last eight stage. They weren't far away in any of those games, but they still couldn't quite get there.
Even allowing for Benny Coulter's square ball 'goal' Down ousted them last year on their way to an All-Ireland final, but so far this year, the Mourne men have done nothing to suggest they are genuine All- Ireland contenders. And if this Kildare side miss the boat in terms of reaching an All-Ireland final, that game will go down as the one that got away.
Having said all that, Kildare can beat Derry tomorrow. John Brennan's side looked devoid of ideas in the Ulster final and they went from racking up 3-14 against Armagh to just 0-8 versus Donegal, so Kildare can win with something to spare.
The other game in Croke Park between Down and Cork will go along the lines of last year's All-Ireland final. I expect Noel O'Leary to be deployed to shadow Martin Clarke again and despite their injuries, the Rebels can pull through against James McCartan's stuttering side.
Wexford should also get through against Limerick, though Maurice Horan's side can make life quite uncomfortable for the Model men. However, a tally of 8-64 in four games speaks for itself and anything like a repeat of that form will see Jason Ryan's outfit in another All-Ireland quarter-final.
There's a fascinating clash in Omagh and while people will say Tyrone are coming good at the right time, Mickey Harte is making too many running repairs to his side for my liking.
Armagh had two good games with Wicklow and that win in Aughrim was more impressive than they are getting credit for, so I can see them springing a surprise.
If results go along those lines, that would leave Kildare, Cork, Wexford and Roscommon or Armagh playing one of the four provincial winners. And that looks like a shark pool to me.