Saturday, Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon, 6.30pm, (Ref: David Coldrick, Meath)
Latest from the medics and management…An unchanged team for Kildare but Kieran McGeeney’s teamsheet should never be believed. Although Allstar full-back Michael Foley excelled at centrefield last week, don’t be surprised if either Daryl Flynn or Hugh Lynch – both close to a return after injury – join him there and if Rob Kelly moves into the half-forward line taking the place of the struggling Eoghan O’Flaherty. And after all the controversy, Seánie Johnston’s form from the bench means he must be in contention to start too while Eamonn Callaghan made a return late on last week and with their problems around breaking ball, he’s another important option.
KILDARE: Shane Connolly (St Laurence’s); Ollie Lyons (Celbridge), Peter Kelly (Two Mile House), Hugh McGrillen (Celbridge); Emmet Bolton (Eadestown), Morgan O’Flaherty (Carbury), Eoin Doyle (Naas); Michael Foley (Athy), Robert Kelly (Straffan); Eoghan O’Flaherty (Carbury), Mikey Conway (Nurney), Alan Smith (Sarsfields); John Doyle (Allenwood), Tomás O’Connor (Clane), James Kavanagh (Ballymore).
Having waited on the fitness of Pat Hughes, Sligo could wait no longer and he doesn’t make the line-up. David Maye, a late call-up for the Connacht final, holds onto his place and that’s little surprise as his ball-striking was one of the highlights of that game. Alan Costello is named at corner-forward but will filter back into a play-making role, leaving a two-man inside-forward line, while the half-back line and midfield will drop deep too, blocking off the channels with sheer numbers in defence.
SLIGO: Philip Greene (St John’s); Neil Ewing (Drumcliffe/Rosses Point), Johnny Martyn (St Mary’s), Ross Donovan (Eastern Harps); Charles Harrison (St John’s), Mark Quinn (St Molaise Gaels), Paul McGovern (Eastern Harps); Shane McManus (Geevagh), Tony Taylor (Eastern Harps); Mark Breheny (St Mary’s), David Maye (Curry), Brendan Egan (Tourlestrane); Alan Costello (Coolera/Strandhill), Adrian Marren (Curry), David Kelly (Tubbercurry).
Checking the odds…Kildare look far too short at 2/7 while Sligo at the inverse is a tempting bet. The draw at 8-1 isn’t a bad call either while the handicap at four points seems generous in the Connacht side’s favour too.
Clues from the form guide…Sligo have the historically difficult task of recovering from a provincial final defeat and making the quarter-finals. Indeed we all remember what happened the last time they were pipped at the post with silverware on the line in the west as back in 2010 they reached this stage and were humiliated by Down.
They did look sticky and played with a huge intensity the last day and while Kildare have back-to-back wins entering this, they don’t exactly have momentum as they fell over the finishing line against Limerick. They’ve also struggled consistently in the Kieran McGeeney era to play against a side with Sligo’s style.
The game breakers are…Firstly Kildare’s ability to move the ball much more quickly and far less laterally in attack. They need to be more direct with the ball into Tomás O’Connor and have strike runners coming onto him far faster. Indeed to create the sort of space he needs to make things happen, a good day from distance for the half-forward line would help as if they can shoot from afar, they can drag the massed defence out of position, creating space in behind for James Kavanagh and Alan Smith coming from a little deeper.
As for Sligo, they can’t afford as poor a day at midfield again, as was the case in the Connacht final, where first Barry Moran and then Aidan O’Shea were the game changers and game winners. Because of their struggles there, the forwards didn’t get enough ball to get them the victory.
Sligo’s David Kelly. Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Gazing into the crystal ball…If Michael Foley can play as well again at centrefield, it’ll be a good start for Kildare, but even more crucial than him will be their performance around breaking ball which wasn’t good the last day. That’s where Eoin Doyle and Emmet Bolton will come in and the latter will have a big say if he can continue his All Star form and create havoc from deep.
But this won’t be easy and Kildare will need their full-back line to improve, particularly Peter Kelly who fouled too much against Meath and was taken apart by Ian Ryan when the supply in was frequent. Sligo will look to do something similar by isolating Kelly and Adrian Marren and hope Costello can get on enough ball to play the passes into space for those two.
Sligo’s system doesn’t suit Kildare but man-for-man the Leinster side have the stronger line-up, and the more scoring options and should have learnt their lessons about hesitant forward play a week ago. It’ll be close again but…
Verdict…Kildare by three
Join us tomorrow as we go live from Dr Hyde Park with minute-by-minute updates of Kildare v Sligo at 6.30pm.