Photo: Leinster Leader
Seeing as we’re now in game-every-weekend mode – assuming, that is, we stay up on the horse – there’s no time for leisurely run-ins to what’s up ahead. Semple Stadium and the trip to Tipp? History. Now it’s all about Round 3 and our meeting with Kildare this coming Saturday.
There’s still no clarity on the venue for this fixture. Kildare were first out of the pot so they’re entitled to host the game but the obvious issue is that St Conleth’s Park is a small venue – it can apparently fit no more than 12,000, with most of them standing on the three small terraces as well as a good proportion of the equally modest stand – and a big crowd is likely to want to get to the game. We’ll know more on that, though, shortly.
Being drawn to play Kildare means that for the third time in this year’s qualifier odyssey we’ve been paired with teams we’ve encountered before in the back door. In this instance, we last met the Lilies in 2016, also in Round 3, on a glorious Saturday evening at MacHale Park. We fairly whipped them on that occasion, in an era when they would have had far more experience of going through the scenic route while we were still qualifier ingénues.
Kildare were a Division Two side two years ago but in 2017 they won promotion to the top tier, finishing second to Galway in the table (on five wins and two losses). They then lost out to Galway in the Divisional final.
They made the Leinster final as well last summer. Big wins over Laois and Meath got them to the decider but, of course, they got their asses handed to them by the Dubs in the final, a pre-ordained outcome that is now such an intrinsic part of Leinster GAA football culture. The natives love it, I’m told.
It’s always a tricky proposition being pitched into the qualifiers in Round 4. Kildare drew surprise packets Armagh in that round and it was a late surge from the Orchard County that secured them the win at Croke Park and ended Kildare’s involvement in the championship.
Division One proved tough for the Lilies this spring as well. Seven matches, seven defeats – including a seven-point loss to us at Newbridge in March – sent Cian O’Neill’s side spinning back down to the League’s second tier. Mind you, League form isn’t always relevant: just ask Donegal.
In Kildare’s case, though, poor spring form preceded early summer disaster. Carlow’s good win over Louth in the Leinster preliminary round should have served as fair warning to the Lilies but it was an alert that went unheeded. At O’Connor Park in Tullamore in late May the Barrowsiders recorded a famous provincial quarter-final victory over Kildare – their first championship victory over the Short Grass County since 1953 – and it was a fully-deserved win too, Carlow coming out on top in that one by 2-14 to 1-10.
In fairness to Saturday’s opponents, however, they’ve recovered their composure well since then and, more to the point, they’ve learned how to win again. And as we know so well, momentum in the qualifiers is hugely important.
In Kildare we’ll be meeting a team that also started out in Round 1 this summer and so, like us, they’re a team that’ll come into this tie with two wins under their belt. Also like us, these are victories chiselled out away from home but in their case against, arguably, trickier opposition.
Derry up in Owenbeg is no gimme in a Round 1 qualifier tie but Kildare came away from the Oak Leaf County with a 2-22 to 2-14 win. Having lost ten matches on the spin before that game (the linked report claims it was 12 but that’s incorrect, as the above narrative shows), the win they secured up North must have come as a huge morale-booster to the Lilies.
Longford in Pearse Park can be tricky too – as we ourselves still recall – but Kildare kept their nerve last Saturday to snatch victory by 1-16 to 1-13. Kildare never led in that Round 2 fixture until the 69th minute but they got the late scores they needed to wriggle clear at the finish.
So, that’s a quick bit of background on Kildare’s recent form. The bookies fancy us to come through this one but they’re not exactly putting their shirt on us either – we’re priced at 4/9 and the handicap is set at three points. Let’s, though, finish up with a poll to test the temperature: how do you reckon we’ll do in our next qualifier battle?
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