Time stands still for none of us so, with Round 6 behind us, on we rush to the final round of Division One action in this year’s National League. Our Round 7 opponents on Sunday are Kildare, it’s another home-away-from-home fixture for us, this time at Páirc Seán MacDiarmada in Carrick-on-Shannon. Throw-in is at the earlier time of 1.45pm, the match isn’t on TV and the ref is Meath’s David Gough.
From our standpoint – and, most likely, theirs too – the first thought that comes into our heads when turning our minds towards Kildare is, of course, Newbridge or Nowhere. The Long, Hot, Summer of 2018, the Lilies’ rather quixotic stand on home advantage (something they’d happily ceded for aeons in the Leinster Championship) and then a real rip-roaring qualifier tie, which Kildare deservedly won by two points and, as a result, saw us fail to make at least an All-Ireland semi-final for the first time since 2010.
That match was our most recent meeting. We’d played them in the League that spring as well – also at St Conleth’s Park, where we came out on top by seven points – but they ended up getting relegated at the end of that campaign, as we did in 2020, and so our paths haven’t crossed since that halcyon summer evening.
While we beat them decisively in the qualifiers at MacHale Park in 2016, they pipped us by a point at Newbridge in Round 1 of the League back in 2014. Interestingly, it’s been a long time since we beat them at home in the League (we’re assuming here, as we must I guess, that Páirc Seán counts as ‘home’ for us) as the most recent time we played them in the League in Castlebar was back in 2013 where they pulled off a surprise one-point win.
You need to go all the way back to 2003, in fact, to find that most recent home win for us. That match was played at James Stephens Park in Ballina, where we came out on top by 0-12 to 0-9.
So much for ancient history. What of Kildare more recently?
Last year they were, like us, operating in Division Two and, like us, they came out on top of their section, which, in their case, was Division Two South. We would have met in the divisional final too had it been played – they beat Meath in the semi-final while we beat Clare (losing Cillian to long-term injury in the process) – but instead we both had to be content with a place back at the top table this spring.
In last summer’s knockout Championship they made it as far as the Leinster final. They had five points to spare over Offaly in the quarters and just two over Westmeath in the semis before an incredibly unambitious performance against Dublin in the final, where they never really had a go at all and, predictably, got a bit of a paddling as a result.
Despite this, the Kildare faithful seemed happy enough with their lot under Jack O’Connor. But then Jack started fluttering his eyelids at the Kerry movers and shakers and very late in the day jumped ship to head back south. With Glen Ryan hurriedly installed as their new manager, Kildare looked ill-equipped for the rigours of a Division One campaign this spring.
But, to their credit, they set their stall out straight away. The fates sent Jack O’Connor, now crankily prowling the sideline as Kerry bainisteoir, back to Newbridge for Round 1 where, in front of an enormous crowd, the home team staged a late, gutsy recovery to earn a deserved share of the spoils.
A tame 2-11 to 1-9 loss to Donegal in Ballybofey followed but they had Tyrone – shorn of four first-team regulars after David Gough’s red card spree – on the rack at Omagh in Round 3 only to see the All-Ireland champions squirm loose and snatch an undeserved one-point win.
Back at St Conleth’s Park, they tore into Dessie Farrell’s disjointed Dubs in Round 4, joyously getting the better of them by 1-12 to 0-12 to record the county’s first win over Dublin since 2002.
Wins over Ulster opposition in Division One have also been a rarity for the Lilies. A 1-12 to 0-10 loss to Armagh in the Athletic Grounds in Round 5 underscored this fact but then in Newbridge last Sunday they cut loose against Monaghan, ramming over 24 points to record a stunning nine-point win over the Farneymen.
So, while Kildare aren’t yet safe in Division One, they travel to Carrick next Sunday knowing that their destiny lies in their own hands. If they beat us they’ll definitely stay up, which gives them powerful motivation to secure a rare result away from home turf.
I think it’s fair to say we haven’t anything like the same burning desire to get a win. There’s a school of thought that holds we’re actively doing what we can to avoid qualifying for a League final and, while I’m not sure that’s a line of argument I’d subscribe to, I do think it’s fairly obvious that we’re not straining every sinew to book our place in Croke Park in early April either.
Regardless of who wants to win and who arguably doesn’t, one reason that Sunday’s clash could be an evenly-matched contest is because a number of players who are likely to be involved in Carrick came up against each other in the All-Ireland U20 final back in 2018.
For us, that cohort comprises Jordan Flynn and Ryan O’Donoghue. Tommy Conroy, sadly sidelined for the year now, also started in that U20 final while Oisín Mullin featured for us earlier in that campaign but not in the final.
For them, Jimmy Hyland – who scored ten points in the final – was their main man then. Others from the current Kildare team who were on that U20 team four years ago include Aaron O’Neill (goalkeeper), Tony Archbold, Darragh Ryan, Paddy Woodgate and Brian McLoughlin.
So, there you have it. Kildare with everything to fight for, while we’re unsure we even want the prize that victory will bring. But, as the song goes, you can’t always get what you want. Let’s finish, then, with our usual straw poll: how is this one going to go?
How will we do against Kildare?
- Win (58%, 422 Votes)
- Lose (29%, 210 Votes)
- Draw (13%, 92 Votes)
Total Voters: 724