Kildare will give Dublin a far greater challenge

Kildare looked well-conditioned against Meath, and used their athleticism to dominate

Dublin’s Brian Fenton: he will be well tested by the Kildare pairing. Photograph: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Dublin’s Brian Fenton: he will be well tested by the Kildare pairing. Photograph: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

 

Leinster SFC final: Dublin v Kildare, Croke Park, 4pm Sunday – live on RTÉ2

An eagerly awaited football final – in Leinster! – is testimony to the impact that Kildare have made this season and the suspicion that Dublin may be coming back towards the pack.

It may be that by tea-time on Sunday that will look like wish-fulfilment rather than anything more grounded in reality, but the question of such an outcome will be largely Kildare’s to answer.

The shifting mood is best captured by comparing the odds on Kildare over the past two championship meetings with Dublin. The relaxing from 1-40 to this weekend’s 1-14 mightn’t entitle Cian O’Neill to call the training ground Lourdes but it marks a significant shift in public perception. Is that reliable?

On the basis of the semi-final defeat of Meath, it is. They looked fit and well-conditioned, and used their athleticism to dominate the match. Yet whereas the final score indicated as much, Kildare did struggle for a period to make the scoreboard reflective of the match overall, and Meath lost no more ground in the second half.

Dublin’s semi-final was impressive in as much as it created any sort of a relevant testing ground. Westmeath’s yearning to be free of defensive crackdowns made for an environment in which the champions were able to assemble a winning score by half-time at which point they led by 13 – in fact by the 25th minute they had racked up the 11 points that would have sufficed to win the match.

Organised

Kildare will come with a far greater challenge. Their defence was well organised and vigilantly patrolled. The man-marking was effective, with Meath captain Graham Reilly kept scoreless, and Eoin Doyle was his usual scrupulous self as sweeper for most of the match.

Centre-field went really well for Tommy Moolick and particularly Kevin Feely, but they were grant-aided by the Meath kickout to an extent that is unlikely against Stephen Cluxton.

Although the forwards were good as a unit, they left a good few scores behind them, and would have been entirely out of sight but for nearly a dozen misses in the first half. They have been scoring goals but an improved conversion rate will be critical to staying in the hunt on Sunday.

Unease

Dublin had stepped up against Westmeath, but O’Neill will have noted the customary unease with which Jim Gavin’s team set about a Carlow game plan short only in foxholes in its tenacious intent.

Brian Fenton was back on his game at centrefield, but will be well tested by the Kildare pairing and if he makes significant inroads that will be significant. Another item that will have caught Gavin’s eye – and won’t have escaped O’Neill – is that Meath were able to push through the middle of Kildare’s defence a little too easily.

Defensive alertness and a creative listlessness on Meath’s part meant that no great harm came of it, but it would be unwise to operate on the same assumption here.

Amidst all talk of a potential All-Ireland three-in-a-row, it should be noted that Dublin are on the cusp of a record seventh successive Leinster title. History in the making.

Last meeting: 2015 Leinster semi-final, Croke Park, Dublin 5-18, Kildare 0-14.

Odds: Dublin 1/14, Kildare 9/1, Draw 20/1.

Just the ticket (rates for purchase up until Saturday night): Stands €35, Hill 16 terrace €25. Juveniles €5. Concessions available (except in Hogan Stand and on Hill).

Verdict: Dublin

Referee: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow)

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