Eoin Liston: Lilywhites must devise special strategy to deal with Cluxton kick-outs
Many are saying this is a do-or-die game for Kildare – and Kieran McGeeney. For me, that is an overly simplistic way of assessing the current state of play in relation to both the manager and the team.
The reality is, regardless of whether or not this is Kieran's last year at the helm, he will leave the county in much better shape than he found them in. People have short memories.
Prior to when he took over late in 2007, they had been easily beaten by Meath and then again by Louth in Round 2 of the qualifiers. In 2006 Offaly beat them in Leinster and they were hammered by Derry in the qualifiers. And it was a similar story in 2005. You get the picture.
Since then they have been at least in the All-Ireland quarter-finals every year. For two years of that, I would say Kildare were very realistic All-Ireland contenders and they were outdone by some very strange refereeing decisions against Down in the 2010 semi-finals and Donegal in that epic last- eight clash the following year.
Last season they were badly beaten by Cork and suddenly people were saying Kieran had gone as far as he could. But Sunday represents a different ball game as Kildare introduce a number of young players from their successful U-21 team.
This is very much a new era for the Lilywhites and they are in a period of transition. Niall Kelly, Paul Cribbin, Paddy Brophy, Daniel Flynn and Mark Donnellan all made their championship debuts against Offaly the last time out, while Sean Hurley is another who is set to feature against the Dubs.
That is a huge chunk of the team who have very little experience. To expect miracles from them is unrealistic. Patience is required. Galway were the perfect example earlier this year – a team with a lot of talented youngsters coming off the back of a successful All-Ireland U-21 campaign, but they were blown away by Mayo. The step-up to the top level is massive.
In the case of Cribbin, Hurley and Flynn, in particular, they are big, strong athletic men. But the difference is whether or not they have the power required to have a game-changing influence at the top level. tomorrow will answer that one, even though I have little doubt they will be major players for the years to come.
I believe if they are to win this game, they need to have two things perfected. Firstly, they must have a strategy to deal with Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs. They will need to win at least 60pc of primary possession and curbing Cluxton is key to this. They must also ensure their own kick-outs keep the Dubs guessing.
In the league, they did score more goals than anyone else in the top tier and that is a nice achievement. Indeed, if you look back over the last few years, Kildare have been capable of getting big scores. The problem has been they appear to need to play an awful lot of football in order to get those scores.
What I mean by that is, apart from the timeless Johnny Doyle, they haven't yet unearthed a genuinely top-class forward who you know will do damage once he is given the right supply. There is a lot of confidence in the likes of Kelly and Brophy, but it's only in games like this, when the pressure on almost every kick is huge, that you can judge what level they are at.
I would be confident they will have enough of the ball, it's how efficiently they use it – that's where the concern lies.
The second thing will be their defensive system. Eamonn Callaghan is a fine footballer with a lot of pace and he is excellent with ball in hand. The same can be said for Emmett Bolton, while Mick Foley and Peter Kelly won't be found wanting in the full back-line.
But the key will be their half-forwards working back and ensuring there are no gaping holes left for Dublin to run through. Michael Darragh Macauley, in particular, can destroy a team with his running game from midfield. If there is any weakness at the heart of that defence, it will be exploited.
Bernard Brogan, Paddy Andrews and Paul Mannion will attempt to pull their men all over the place. The way to stop them doing damage is to deny them space. In the league, Kildare failed to do this and they were punished ruthlessly.
Should they make the same mistakes, the same thing will happen. Geezer will know that better than anyone.