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MEATH v KILDARE Andriú Mac Lochlainn: 'When they close their eyes at night, do they actually believe they can beat the Dubs?

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13 June 2009; Redmond Barry, Wexford, in action against Brian Flanagan and Andriu Mac Lochlainn, right

13 June 2009; Redmond Barry, Wexford, in action against Brian Flanagan and Andriu Mac Lochlainn, right

SPORTSFILE

13 June 2009; Redmond Barry, Wexford, in action against Brian Flanagan and Andriu Mac Lochlainn, right

WE ask Andriú Mac Lochlainn about the 2011 Leinster semi-final, the game where he was controversially penalised for a disputed foul on Bernard Brogan that led to Brogan’s match-winning free.

Yet the reopening of old wounds is not our motivation – rather we want to know the prevailing mindset back then. In those tantalising years under Kieran McGeeney, did Kildare players genuinely believe that they could beat Dublin?

“One hundred per cent.”

And was that same conviction present for the rest of the decade?

“It’s fair to say that there’s probably only three teams in any given year, since 2011, that honestly felt that they could beat Dublin,” Mac Lochlainn surmises.

“When they’re in a dark room by themselves at night, when they close their eyes, do they actually believe? Or was it just saying it?

“And there’s probably only been three teams every year that have said, ‘Look, we can beat these guys.’ Mayo and Kerry have been two of the consistent ones, and then you’d have Donegal and Tyrone flipping in and out.”

And Kildare? “Based on their performances when they played Dublin, I would feel that they didn’t believe at the time completely. And apart from that, maybe the players weren’t there and Dublin were exceptional.”

Mac Lochlainn wouldn’t face the Dubs again after 2011, but the statistical evidence is overwhelming. In four SFC outings (2013, ’15, ’17 and ’19) Kildare lost by a cumulative 59 points.

And now for the good news. Kildare aren’t playing Dublin on Sunday – but they might be six days later. Ditto Meath.

And that brings us to the crux of Sunday’s first Leinster SFC semi-final at Croke Park (1.0): just how important is it for Kildare and Meath? Is the morale-boost of toppling a deadly rival worth it for the dubious prize of a near-certain final against Dublin next Saturday?

All of this may sound gratuitously dismissive of Laois, who face Dessie Farrell’s all-conquering champions in the second semi-final (3.30). But then the history of Leinster football over the past decade has warned us to expect the lopsided worst.

And this applies to the traditional pretenders, not just the minnows.

Meath and Kildare have shipped so many Dublin punishment beatings, over the past decade, that your inner cynic might presume neither will be trying too hard this weekend.

Meath’s record is slightly less traumatic: since their outrageous five-goal outlier against Dublin in 2010, their five SFC collisions have resulted in a cumulative 52-point defeat.

Even the three-point margin in 2012 doesn’t tell the full picture; Dublin led by nine on the hour.

Yet, for all the pessimism beyond the Pale about the lopsided state of Leinster football, there is huge local interest inSunday’s clash of Royals and Lilies.

There is a sense of a fixture balanced on a knife-edge, a battle of near-equals that could take on a thrilling life of its own.

“Personally I think it’s going to be a cracking game, because they’re quite well matched,” Mac Lochlainn reckons. “And if they can perform and get the win over Meath, they’re in bonus territory.

“With a new manager, Jack (O’Connor) has to put his stamp on it and, to be fair, Jack’s style is a nice style of football, it’s traditional, it’s very different to what the Kildare managers for the last four to five years have been instilling into the players.

“You know, when you’re under pressure, everyone goes to their default. And if your default was to put the ball through hands and go left and right and go left and right … where Jack seems to be, ‘Well, you only can score if the ball is in the forwards so get the ball in there!’ And that takes a while.”

Both teams struggled before the first lockdown, Kildare skirting near the fringes of a Division 2 relegation dogfight whereas Meath’s top-flight fate was sealed as early as March. Yet, for both, results have improved since last month’s resumption.

Not enough, perhaps, to challenge Dublin’s iron rule – but enough to dub tomorrow’s game The Alternative Leinster Final – aka a fascinating battle for second place.

“In a way that’s sad,” Mac Lochlainn admits, “and you’d hope the gap is closing there. But the odds are stacked in Dublin’s favour,” he adds, suggesting that, without the excuse of crowds, they could have kept Croke Park closed until the All-Ireland semi-final stage.

Harking back to the turn of the last decade, he says 2010 and 2011 were “such good years for football because there was a significant amount of teams that believed they had a chance of winning a provincial or an All-Ireland – and actually could.”

It’s a much shorter list today. Nowhere more so than in Leinster.

Online Editors


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