Earley hoping Kildare’s mixture of youth and experience can halt Dublin machine

“It’s up to the lads to realise this is the time to do it and not to wait for another year”

Dermot Earley mentions The Machine before we do. That is how Gaelic football's elite are now viewed.

It is a way of playing adopted by Donegal and Dublin, and Tyrone before them, which forced Kerry and Cork, and eventually Mayo and Kildare, to evolve.

The Machine was best defined by Mickey Harte’s tactical blueprint. Jim McGuinness and Pat Gilroy twisted it to suit their players.

The Machine cares little for the old ways, only victory by exposing the inherent weaknesses of football’s more loosely defined rules.


The smothering of individual talent makes the purist want to vomit. It made champions out of the counties that most effectively combined athleticism and rudiments of the game.

The Machine has changed the game forever.

“It’s different even in the last five years, the game has really changed,” said Earley. “It’s almost all zonal. We saw [Donegal] against Down on Sunday – if you make any mistakes you are punished and you just can’t give the ball away.

“You don’t have those one-to-one battles really any more except maybe in the full-forward line where there is that bit of space but out the field it’s more zonal.”

Adapt or perish then?

“I suppose the key thing is you do have to get the ball into the forward lines where your scorers are. Dublin have it, Donegal have it and I think we have it as well. Cork and Kerry have it too. They are the top teams and it’s about working the ball into the [inside forwards.”

Kildare turned to Kieran McGeeney to build their machine in 2008. Earley’s knee denies him the opportunity to see out a sixth season under Armagh’s 2002 All-Ireland winning captain, as McGeeney strives to bring the perennial second tier county up a notch.

Sunday’s Leinster semi-final against Dublin presents the latest opportunity to beat an elite team.

The closest they have come was the 2011 All-Ireland quarter-final – the first year of Jim McGuinness’s Donegal revolution when Kevin Cassidy’s iconic point in the depths of extra-time snuffed out the Lilywhites.

“They kicked on and we went a little bit back and hopefully this year we are picking up the pieces. I don’t think there will be much in this game on Sunday, it’s going to be quite close.”

So, 2013 can be the peak of McGeeney’s Kildare?

“I think the talent is there, especially with the new under-21 players that have come in, some unbelievably skilful players, with pace and fitness combining with players who have been there for the last five or six years with Kieran that have got to the quarter-finals. It’s hard to know but I hope so.”

It was in 2000 that Kildare last beat Dublin in the championship. Earley scored a vital goal just after half-time. In layman’s terms, we ask him to explain how they can possibly repeat such a feat against this ever-improving group.

“You have to go beyond Dublin’s level of intensity. You can’t match it. You have to actually go beyond it – the pace, the way they play the game, their directness, their tackling. Everything. You have to go beyond that and actually play that way yourself.

“Obviously, Dublin’s full forward line is their strongest area and denying possession into that line is one of the main ways to stop them.

“Sounds easy but it is going to take a huge amount of effort because Dublin are developing into a machine. They move in waves, they come back in waves. How you stop that wave is very hard but we are going to have to out work them.

"The older lads are getting older," he adds. "Johnny Doyle is still going strong but how much more can he go and no one wants to win one more than he does. We all play to win silverware but before you know it, and I can testify to this, the years are gone, you miss out and you regret that you didn't win anything. It's up to the lads to realise this is the time to do it and not to wait for another year or next week or the qualifiers. Hopefully they are thinking along those lines."

Of course, The Machine doesn’t think. It just acts.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent