Saturday 24 March 2018

Superior defence can edge Lilies to long-awaited Leinster final date

Kildare's Eoin Doyle. Photo: Sportsfile
Kildare's Eoin Doyle. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Who would have thought when Kildare led Dublin, who had lost Ger Brennan on a red card after 19 minutes, by two points at half-time in the 2009 Leinster final that eight years later the Lilywhites would not only be still searching for their next provincial title but also for a place in the final?

Fourteen-man Dublin won the second half by 0-10 to 0-6. Since then, Kildare lost to Louth in the 2010 quarter-final and in the last six semi-finals - to Dublin in 2011, '13 and '15, Meath in '12 and '14 and Westmeath last year.

Meath footballer Graham Reilly. Photo: Sportsfile
Meath footballer Graham Reilly. Photo: Sportsfile

It's their worst Leinster record since going from 1978 to 1992 without reaching the final.

Despite their disappointing run, they are marginal favourites to beat Meath, a rating acquired off a successful Division 2 campaign where they earned promotion as runners-up to Galway. Meath were a point behind Kildare, having lost the head-to-head match in the first round by 10 points in Navan.

Meath recovered impressively and picked up more points (nine versus v eight) than Kildare over the next six rounds, so that early clash carries little relevance now.

Both Meath (average 20 points) and Kildare (average 18.9 points) scored heavily in the League and carried the productivity into the Championship: the Lilywhites hit Laois for 1-21 while the Royals put 0-27 on Louth.

That background suggests a shoot-out can be expected this evening. Of course, games that appear to have all the ingredients for a score-fest don't always play out that way and certainly not in a contest where the prize is so great.

Some may argue that the prospect of a tilt at Dublin (assuming they beat Offaly or Westmeath), who have galloped virtually unchallenged through recent Leinster campaigns, isn't very appetising but that's to be defeatist, a condition that neither Cian O'Neill nor Andy McEntee would tolerate.

Besides, Galway franked high-end Division 2 form when beating Mayo last Sunday and, since Meath beat the Tribesmen in the League, while Kildare lost to them by one and two points in the regular league and Division 2 final respectively, there are signs that the gap is closing.

Opposition apart, the value in reaching the Leinster final is considerable.

At the very least, it would leave Kildare or Meath driving on from a top 12 position, while defeat would send them into turbulent qualifier waters, starting in round two.

It will be interesting to see how McEntee and O'Neill set up their sides to counteract the other's attacking powers.

Meath captain Graham Reilly scored 0-7 from play against Louth on a day when they had than nine scorers.

Kildare had 13 scorers against Laois, with Daniel Flynn (1-3) Niall Kelly and Cathal McNally (0-3 each) yielding 1-9 between them from play.

Kildare also did well defensively, restricting Laois to 1-7.

Meath were far less secure, conceding 3-9 to Louth, while also offering a few other goal chances which weren't taken.

Was it a one-off on an area of serious concern for Meath? Kildare have the attacking quality to put that to the test.

They might well get enough reward to enable them to end the long wait for a Leinster final outing.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport