Burke's Lilies ready to finish the job
Kildare U-20 manager Davy Burke admits there were times this year when he wondered whether he was getting things right.
On the challenge game circuit, he heard of results that had him worried. Some big fish were laying down markers early in the year.
Kildare, meanwhile, were struggling for any sort of traction, a point that was rammed home to him when they met Kerry for a challenge game in Limerick and suffered a chastening defeat.
As Leinster minor champions of 2016, they were expected to be in the shake-up at least for provincial honours. But early on they struggled.
Like the rest of the teams in the competition they had to wait on the availability of their senior contingent of Ruadhán Ó Giolláin, Jimmy Hyland, Mark Dempsey and Aaron O'Neill. There were injuries early on too, while club month didn't help preparations.
Also, in the two years since they won minor, there had been much change in the panel.
By the time they opened their Leinster championship against Laois, they still had a way to travel. They staged a miraculous eight-point comeback to get off to a winning start.
"We weren't going well early in the year and we were concerned," recalls Burke (pictured). "I remember at one stage talking to the strength and conditioning lads, and Paul Divilly was telling us to hold and that things would come good."
The plan worked. They beat Laois, lost to Meath and were comfortable winners over Offaly and then were much too strong for Dublin in a Leinster final. They had eight points to spare over the Dubs, who themselves had beaten the Royals by 12.
Eight days later Kildare were in action again and this time they had a score to settle as they faced Kerry in Limerick once more.
And for a large section of the squad there was the added motivation after they had lost by 22 points to the Kingdom in the All-Ireland minor semi-final two years ago. Kildare emerged one-point winner afters a gutsy show.
Even allowing for the fact that Kerry were without star men David Clifford and Sean O'Shea due to their senior commitments, it was a remarkable turnaround.
"I don't think anyone ever doubted their talent but we have put a bit of grit and steel into them and they showed that in the Kerry game," says Burke.
And now they face Mayo in tomorrow's inaugural EirGrid All-Ireland U-20 final in Croke Park. The Lilies are out to finish the job.
"Mayo put a fancied Derry side to bed without much fuss and they beat a Roscommon side who beat Galway who were in a minor final at this level two years ago," warns Burke. "They are going to be the best side we have faced."
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