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Smith raring to go after fighting way back for Lilywhites

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Alan Smith, Kildare

Alan Smith, Kildare

Alan Smith, Kildare

TRYING to predict the outcome of Sunday's Leinster SFC semi-final between Kildare and Meath is a bit like that famous Donald Rumsfeld quote about "known unknowns", according to the Lilywhites' Alan Smith.

"I think we're probably wondering, and I think Meath are probably wondering too," he admitted of the difficulty of assessing either form-line given the Lilies' comfortable defeat of Louth and Meath's subsequent slaughter of the innocents in Dr Cullen Park.

"Whoever comes out on top of this, you'll probably get a better look at both sides and where we're at," said the Sarsfield man (below). "League games are always very close and Meath are our rivals in Leinster as well, so there's not going to be too much between us this week.

"Two years ago we probably were going in favourites and they gave us the runaround for the last 20 minutes in Croke Park and beat us well.

"We played them in an All-Ireland quarter-final a couple of years ago (2010), only beat them by a couple too," he recalled, though the result was actually 2-17 to 1-12.

By the time Smith came off the bench in the 54th minute to replace Sean Hurley last time out, Kildare were already home and hosed, but he put his name in the hat with 0-2 and, given his recent injury history, it was an encouraging comeback.

For the past two years, Kildare's casualty tent has been more packed than most and Smith was one of 15 players who had surgery in the past year. He missed the 2013 pre-season with a knee injury, had groin surgery at the start of this year and despite battling back to full combat, he had another setback that ruled him out of the entire NFL.

"I was hoping to be back for the end of the league and played a couple of league games with the club, but I got a back injury after about four minutes into one of them and ended up missing the last two (Allianz) league games," he said.

"Although I haven't played games, I've done a lot of work on core and strength and a good bit of running to get back fit."

Smith's injury history is definitely a motivating factor personally in a team which radically altered its age profile under Kieran McGeeney last year and has changed shape again under Jason Ryan.

Five years ago, Smith was one of their young guns. He starred on the Kildare U-21 team that won a Leinster title in 2008 and lost the All-Ireland U-21 final to a Kerry crew that included Killian Young, David Moran, Kieran O'Leary, Johnny Buckley and Tommy Walsh.

McGeeney gave him his chance and he got an All Star nomination the following year, but time has moved on.

YOUNGEST

"I always felt I was one of the youngest (in the panel), but Kildare U-21s had a very good team last year. Eight or nine of them ended up coming in and next thing I'm 27, so you're looking over your shoulder," Smith admitted.

"After missing a lot of football this year I'm dying to get back, dying to play in Croke Park and still dying to win things. After missing so much football, the fact that we haven't won anything either is still pushing us to keep training hard.

"I know we came close under Kieran – an All-Ireland semi-final and a Leinster final at one stage – but we still didn't win anything.

"We always had a good record in the qualifiers – but it wasn't the qualifiers we wanted to end up in. It was obviously disappointing to lose to Tyrone last year; they knocked us out in Newbridge as well, which was a big blow. It was probably after that defeat that things needed to be refreshed."


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