When you look through the Lilywhite panel, you can’t help but be impressed – but, then again, they haven’t delivered on this potential in the past. Can the arrival of the ‘galactico’ management team, spearheaded by Glenn Ryan, be the catalyst to see them lift the Delaney Cup for the first time since 2000?
When Kildare overturned Dublin in their league encounter in Newbridge, back in late February, it felt bigger than a league win for the Lilywhites.
Their players and management embraced each other like it was a significant championship win, selector Anthony Rainbow may even have shed a few tears. Fans spilled onto the pitch to hug their heroes, the locals obviously felt the good times were on the way back.
Who would blame them for enjoying their ‘moment in the sun’?
Since the replayed Leinster final of 2000, Dublin have put Kildare to the sword time and time again. In their last five championship meetings the average winning margin is in excess of 13 points.
When you reflect back on times in the past when the oppressed has overcome their oppressor often the first blow was struck with a league defeat, giving the underdog sufficient self-belief to deliver the knockout blow come summertime.
Their new management team have already instilled a backbone into the team – and it is clearly evident there is a spirit, hunger and a belief in their ability that had been marked absent in recent years.
In many ways it is reminiscent of when Mick O’Dwyer came back to Kildare in 1998. He altered their mindset and their performance levels increased sufficiently to deliver two Leinster titles in 1998 and 2000. Since then they have reached five provincial deciders, losing all of them.
Dublin will arrive in Croker with their own ambitions and agenda. If anything last February’s league game will have heightened their senses – and they will be anticipating an entirely different Kildare threat from the one they faced in last year’s Leinster final.
So what can we expect from Kildare?
Their game against Westmeath, arguably, raised more questions than answers. Overall, the game lacked real intensity, with both teams standing off their opponents. It was an open game with some great moves executed and scores taken, but it felt like a pre-championship clash.
Kildare were always in control and, in essence, it was a three-point hammering. However, the concession of two goals will have raised some alarm bells defensively.
That said, there were some impressive facets and passages of Kildare play.
Despite the concession of an early goal, they soon settled and turned the game totally in their favour, when obliterating the Westmeath kick-out for a spell.
This dominance led to Jimmy Hyland’s first-half goal, when Kevin Flynn won a Jason Daly restart and released Daniel Flynn who placed Hyland for a palmed finish – it was brilliantly executed.
Their counter-attacking play during the opening half was also noteworthy – and 1-8 of Kildare’s first-half tally came from turnovers.
They attacked with precision and intent when they forced Westmeath into mistakes, or simply bullied them off possession. Ben McCormack was particularly strong during this spell.
So how do they approach a Dublin team who appear to have regained some form? While the Dubs have not really been tested yet, the basic errors and sloppiness that was evident in the league appear to be eradicated to a large degree, but still a poor Meath side did carve goalscoring opportunities from limited possession.
This year Kildare’s approach has been to defend man-to-man, and drop a half-forward in for extra cover. Their strategy, at times, is to stand off their direct opponents, to allow them to track runners and support each other defensively.
In last year’s Leinster final, Dublin took control during the third quarter and picked off Kildare.
The Dubs kicked 20 points from 30 shots, it was business as usual with all their shots coming from around the D, to ensure it was a ‘death by a thousand cuts’.
In their recent semi-final victory over Meath, the fluency to their forward play was excellent in the opening half, with the majority of scores again converted from within the high-percentage scoring zone.
From a Kildare perspective, their first priority must be to make Dublin work for their scores. Kildare must bring the work-rate – and physicality to close down that scoring zone
In addition, they will require an offensive game-plan to try to expose some of Dublin’s possible defensive frailties, by getting runners ahead of the ball and kicking quick ball into their inside trio of Darragh Kirwan, Hyland and Daniel Flynn.
Of course, that is easier said than done, because one of Dublin’s biggest strengths is the pressure they put their opposition under in the middle third.
Their work-rate and intensity can slow down Kildare’s build-up and they can also punish the Lilywhites badly if they turn over the ball and Kildare are found out of position defensively.
Kildare’s biggest strength is their forward line, but they will need to be more clinical in their shot-taking options – their conversion rate was 75pc in their quarter-final against Louth, scoring from 24 of their 32 shots, but against Westmeath that dropped to 59pc (22 out of 37).
The inside forward line of Kirwan, Daniel Flynn and Hyland has real potential – and if they hold their shape, they could cause Dublin plenty of headaches.
Eoin Murchan looks the perfect match for Hyland but the threat of full-forward Flynn will have occupied much of Dessie Farrell’s preparation of his team in recent weeks.
Flynn is a top-class footballer with massive power, pace and ability on the ball.
His directness and primary ball-winning ability is a massive threat – and he has evolved his game into being more of a team player, where his lay-offs can help to carve open opposition defences.
Kirwan and Hyland are working well in feeding off their No 14.
David Byrne, who is out injured, has been the man who has picked up Flynn in the past, so Michael Fitzsimons looks the obvious man to pick him up. However, maybe he is better suited to Kirwan – and Dublin may have to offer up someone, like John Small, to do a man-marking job on Flynn.
Whatever happens, Kildare need to keep their inside trio close to goal – in the past they have relied far too much on low percentage shots from long range, often kicking when under pressure.
Those sort of shortcomings look to have been addressed by the new management.
Just maybe we will have a Leinster final that will bring us to the edge of the seat.
Dublin will be tested and will need to improve in the last 30 metres at both ends of the field. Defensively, in closing down the space in front of their own full-back line.
And when in attack, executing moves with greater ruthlessness and precision to turn opportunities into goals.
Dublin to win by four or five points.