Kildare face into big weekend of action that can shape their future
Can it get any bigger for Kildare football after last weekend? On the face of it, no, not in the public eye anyway.
But while it may not be bigger it is certainly busier, as they seek to cap a remarkable two weeks and strengthen their position in their province in the years ahead.
By Sunday evening they could be Leinster U-20 champions, All-Ireland quarter-finalists and All-Ireland junior and Leinster minor finalists, on top of a resolute stand against the GAA last week that has the served to embolden the county. Only Kerry and themselves are playing for all four All-Ireland titles now.
A clean sweep may be beyond them but the jewel in the crown is tomorrow night's All-Ireland fourth-round qualifier against Fermanagh in Navan, a tricky match for them but one with a huge prize at stake as they seek to take their place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals for a seventh time.
With the added incentive of three games over the following four weeks to help build on recent momentum, the stakes are arguably higher than any previous third or fourth-round qualifier they won to make it to the last eight.
But before and after that game in Navan (7.0) there are pointers to the future that underline why Kildare, despite the setback they suffered against Carlow earlier in the campaign, are recognised as the most likely in Leinster to close the gap on Dublin in the coming years.
Tonight in Tullamore they meet Dublin in the first Leinster U-20 final. Having lost to Meath in a group game, Kildare came through as runners-up and enjoyed a 3-14 to 2-5 semi-final win over Offaly.
Kildare were corresponding Leinster minor champions two years ago so this is a promising line of players who can call on Moorefield's Leinster senior club winning duo Aaron Masterson and Mark Dempsey and the free-scoring Jimmy Hyland for direction. But Dublin's rout of Meath in the other semi-final was impressive and makes them clear favourites.
Kildare have been blazing a trail at minor level this season, winning each of their four games by an average of 13 points while amassing 8-58.
They avoided Meath and Dublin but the quality of their play has been notable nonetheless and expectation is still high that they can see off a Wicklow team that have beaten Dublin and Meath in successive games.
Their juniors face arguably the hardest task over the weekend - against Kerry, who have agreed to travel to Navan for an All-Ireland semi-final.
After the 'bounce' of beating Mayo in Newbridge with a performance this team have desperately chased for a few years now, the test will be to replicate it against a Fermanagh side picking themselves up after an Ulster defeat to Donegal where the pressure of an enjoyable but intense build-up within the county clearly weighed on them.
Fermanagh won't carry that with them tomorrow evening and will present an even more complex defensive conundrum for Kildare than they experienced against Carlow in Tullamore.
But Kildare were coming off an 11-match losing streak in May. Now they're energised by a qualifier run that was more taxing than those that Kieran McGeeney-managed sides had to negotiate in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012 when they had to play three/four qualifier games to get to a quarter-final.
They also have that swell of underage and junior progress that has helped to transform the county in a few months to give them added momentum over a defining weekend.