This has to be the most shambolic weekend of GAA scheduling in living memory. A Munster final at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon in Killarney is an abomination. If you ever wanted to tell people that this competition is not important, you’d hide it away at three o’clock on a huge sporting Saturday. It will be the first time in the history of Munster finals that it’ll be possible to be in Killarney without knowing there’s a game on above in the stadium.
And if that isn't bad enough, following it with a Leinster football final at the same time as the European rugby final is madness. Leinster's biggest support bases are in Dublin and around where all that good land is in Kildare. Any eejit could have told you in January that Leinster would be in the rugby final and Kildare and Dublin would be in the football. But not only are they on the same day, they're on at the same time. Are we actively trying to make sure nobody watches the championship this year?
Worst of all, there’s at least some bit of a chance that this could finally be a Leinster final worth watching. You have to go back a good 10 years for the last time Dublin weren’t expected to win a Leinster final by double-figures. All those years when the game was over after 20 minutes, nobody ever thought they’d live to see the day there’d be a Leinster final where the bookies’ handicap was only six points.
But here we are. I still think Dublin will win but we at least have a game on our hands at last. And what are the Leinster Council doing? Putting it on at the same time as the city’s biggest pro sports team are playing in a European Champions Cup final. You would think they’d be moving mountains to promote it, to make some bit of an occasion of it. But like everything else in this championship so far, it all just seems to be a case of getting the game over with. Run it off there lads and don’t be annoying anybody.
Kildare had a good league even though they were relegated in the end. It was their away form up north that really killed them, but I was in Newbridge the day they drew with Kerry and they were hardy and brave and clever in that game. They didn't take a backwards step against Dublin either and fully deserved their win.
I see they have a secret weapon in their camp this year. Not alone has Glenn Ryan brought in legends like Johnny Doyle, Anthony Rainbow and Dermot Earley but Charlie McCreevy is in and around the camp the whole time too. You could see him all through the league sitting in the dug-out, wrapped up like he was getting ready to hike up Everest.
I wasn’t one bit surprised to see him there. I know Charlie going back years and you couldn’t find a fella with a deeper love of Kildare football or a more positive influence to have around. In life, you need people who have the right blend of not taking themselves too seriously but taking the situation at hand very seriously. That’s Charlie to a tee.
He would know Glenn Ryan a long time, would be good friends with him and attended his wedding. Glenn would value his contribution, even though there’d be huge slagging going on there the whole time.
The young lads playing for Kildare wouldn’t have the first notion about Charlie McCreevy the EU commissioner or the minister for finance or any of that stuff. All they’d be experiencing is a man of great intelligence and organisational skills who’s stone mad into his football. Kieran McGeeney had him involved a decade ago and I’d say it’s no surprise that he’s around for another upturn in Kildare’s fortunes.
The other thing they have now is Glenn Ryan himself. Take all the Kildare greats down the years, none of them carries the weight and authority and mentality he does
Saying that, he won't be kicking many points against Dublin. Kildare are well enough served in that department, for the first time in a long time. Daniel Flynn is an obvious danger for Dublin to have to keep an eye on and Jimmy Hyland has started to really come into his own in the last year.
Beyond those two, they have competition for places in the forward line. When could you last say that? Paddy Woodgate, Darragh Kirwan, Ben McCormack, Neil Flynn – they won't all start but they will all feature at some stage. This is their chance to show that the days of Dublin backs only having to worry about one Kildare forward are gone. That's the least you need just to get to base camp.
The other thing they have now is Glenn Ryan himself. Take all the Kildare greats down the years, none of them carries the weight and authority and mentality he does. He was the leader of those great Kildare teams, spiritually and physically. You’re talking about pound-for-pound probably Kildare’s greatest ever footballer.
That matters. If you were listening to him all the way through the league, he never once accepted that Kildare didn’t belong or that they should be happy with their performances. The crowd went wild in Newbridge the day they got the last four points against Kerry to pull out a draw. But he just shrugged afterwards and pointed to all the wides they had kicked and said they shouldn’t have been that far behind in the first place.
So the Kildare supporters who left Croke Park last year raging because their team basically just tried to keep the score down against Dublin won't be having those same conversations this time around. You can be guaranteed of that. At Kildare training this week, they will be talking about going up there on Saturday and winning the game. And rightly so.
Because the prize is bigger than a Leinster medal. They must know that. Beat Dublin on Saturday night and the message goes out across the province – the reign of terror is over, the Leinster Championship is there to be won again. It changes everyone’s attitude straight away. You can’t buy that kind of thing.
The problem is, the opposite is true as well. If you’re not going to beat Dublin in the year they’ve been relegated, when are you going to do it? And whatever about not beating them, what if it’s just a repeat of all the Leinster finals we’ve sat through for the past decade and Dublin go out and hammer them? What then?
I don’t see that happening, for what it’s worth. I think Kildare have the forwards, the management and the attitude to make a serious game of it. They are very strong around the middle too and their goalkeeper is under-rated. You would be too if the only time most people got to see you was in games against the Dublin team for the past seven or eight years.
My worry for Kildare is in their defence. They have one very good man-marker in Mick O'Grady, who I presume will take Con O'Callaghan. But after that, who do they have to send after Ciarán Kilkenny? Whoever it is is going to have to play the game of his life to stop Kilkenny because even with all the changes under Dessie Farrell, he's still the one who dictates the tempo of Dublin's attack.
Outside of O’Grady, not too many of Kildare’s defenders have a good solid bank of intercounty championship games to their name. They gave away a goal from the throw-in against Westmeath – that to me shows a lack of experience and pure, cold-blooded defensive instincts in their defence. It didn’t even take much from Westmeath to manage it.
Their centre back Ronan Wallace collected the throw-in, ran 50 yards without a hand being laid on him and flicked a handpass over two Kildare defenders to Ronan O'Toole running in behind. I know it was only 12 seconds into the game and you can't be relying on having your defensive shape in order at that point. But that's when you need a defender to sniff out the trouble and go and deal with it. If they get caught in the headlights again like that against Dublin, we all know what will happen.
In one way, this is set up perfectly for Kildare. If Dublin were after having the kind of Leinster campaign they had last year where they didn't look convincing at any stage, you'd add that to the relegation and think they were in big trouble here. But they've blown away Wexford and Westmeath and you can sense everyone coming around to the idea that they're back to their best.
That has to suit Kildare down to the ground. They can convince themselves that nobody is giving them a chance and they can use that all week to ramp themselves up for Saturday. They should be going into this one hell-bent on causing a shock and being able to tell everyone afterwards that they weren’t one bit surprised.
I still think Dublin are too strong for them though. I hope we see a properly competitive Leinster final – it definitely has all the ingredients for one. But until the Dubs actually lose in Leinster, there’s no point getting too cute with predictions.