It seems like aeons have passed – in blog years at least – since we played Monaghan. The upcoming match with Kildare seems to be somewhere out in the far distance too, with all the focus over the last 24 hours (aside from the great exploits of our U17 team) on the decision to fix the game for Croke Park at 6pm on Saturday.
I get that this has annoyed many and, for sure, a provincial venue would have suited most supporters better. That said, Croke Park works for those based in and around the capital – in the way that Castlebar doesn’t! – and I’d say it definitely works for James Horan and his team. As it does for Glen Ryan and Kildare as well.
The reality, for many people, is that it suits to go to some games but not to others. We’re all doing other things in our lives and over the course of a summer, football matches don’t always get highest priority.
That’s as true of me as it is for anyone else. I missed four of our Championship games in 2019 – the New York trip clashed with club commitments involving one of the kids, I was at a family wedding the day of the Roscommon match and we were away on holidays when two of the Super 8 games were played – and, you know, the world didn’t stop spinning then.
Regardless of which side you sit on the issue of Saturday’s scheduling, the one thing everyone can agree on is that the venue isn’t going to change at this stage. The match will go ahead at HQ on Saturday evening and in it ourselves and Kildare will battle it out for a place in the All-Ireland quarter-final. With only five days to go till then, it definitely makes sense to switch the focus squarely to the game.
So it’s Kildare we’re up against, a team we played as recently as the end of March when, in Round 7 of the League, we won a high-scoring encounter at our home-from-home in Páirc Seán MacDiarmada. That result earned us a place in the Division One final, which we didn’t really want, while defeat for them relegated them from the top tier, which they most definitely didn’t want.
The Lilies were, in fact, very unlucky to suffer the drop. If you’d have told them in advance that they’d draw with Kerry and beat Dublin, it’s not a fate they’d have expected. But losses to Donegal, Tyrone (an agonising one-point one) and Armagh, combined with Monaghan’s late, late win over Dublin meant that they along with the Dubs went through the trapdoor.
Malachy Clerkin made a very good point on the podcast prior to Kildare’s Leinster final meeting with Dublin, where he said that Glen Ryan and his management team knew that their team simply had to back up the win over Dessie Farrell’s team in Newbridge. Not necessarily by beating them again – though that would be the obvious priority – but definitely by avoiding the shellacking that has become standard practice when Dublin play anyone in Leinster.
But, of course, they failed in abject fashion to do this. Dublin hit them with five goals in the opening half – which should raise hopes in our ability to bag a few majors, notwithstanding our penchant for butchering goal-scoring chances at every single opportunity these days – and chased them off the field on a scoreline of 5-17 to 1-15.
Before then, the Lilies beat Louth by 2-22 to 0-12 in the Leinster quarter-final and they accounted for Westmeath by 1-21 to 2-15 in the semis.
There was, I heard, a bit of nervousness among some Kildare supporters ahead of the Louth match, on the basis that, no more than ourselves, they might struggle against a well-drilled Ulster-style defence deployed by Mickey Harte’s charges. Those fears proved groundless, though, as Kildare blew the Wee County away without too much fuss.
Westmeath bagged a goal right from the throw-in in the semi-final but once Jimmy Hyland responded in kind for Kildare, they led from then to the finish. The Lake County came with a late charge but they came up short by three points at the finish.
Ever since the qualifiers were first instituted, it’s proved very tough for losing provincial finalists to make progress via the back door. After the thumping Kildare suffered last time out, it would be easy to assume that this trend will continue on Saturday, as they’ll surely view us as one of the teams they’d have liked to avoid.
That said, the shortened qualifier campaign this year means that those who lose early in their province don’t have the same chance to build up a head of steam before meeting a provincial finalist. All we’ve got to show for our efforts from this back door run is a wobbly enough performance against Monaghan.
We’re the favourites to do it but tipping us these days can be a hazardous business. They may be down but they’re far from out and, just the same as us, a place in the All-Ireland quarter-final is there to be claimed.
As usual, let’s finish with the usual pre-match poll: will we win this one?
Will we beat Kildare?
- Yes (78%, 973 Votes)
- No (22%, 279 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,252