Tomorrow, Kildare v Limerick, O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, 7.00 (Ref: Barry Cassidy, Derry)
Latest from the medics and management…
Same again for Kildare, or at least that’s what they are telling us. What Kieran McGeeney has written before him and what ends up in the programme are often two very different things and with Hugh Lynch closing in on full-fitness and a bench that also contains Seánie Johnston, Ollie Lyons, Daryl Flynn and Pádraig Fogarty among others it can be hard to predict. But regardless of personnel this is a system that won’t change much no matter who actually starts. Expect corner-backs and wing-backs to break from deep, expect a lot of high ball in on top of Tomás O’Connor and expect support runners to break off him as he knows his limitations and shooting isn’t his greatest asset.
Kildare: S Connolly; A MacLochlainn, P Kelly, H McGrillen; E Bolton, M O’Flaherty, E Doyle; M Foley, R Kelly; E O’Flaherty, M Conway, A Smith; J Doyle, T O’Connor, J Kavanagh
Experience over youth again for Limerick as, while captain Ger Collins returns to take his place after injury caused him to miss out last week, it’s a side backboned by the tried and tested. They were the group that had the nous, and remarkably the legs, to come past Longford after extra-time. Johnny McCarthy was the best player on the park in that game, holding Brian Kavanagh scoreless while kicking a point himself; and, Stephen Lucey, Jim Donovan, Seánie Buckey and Stephen Kelly also formed a sturdy and tough midfield diamond which was game-changing and it’s an area they’ll look to capitalise on again. Those players are there to win possession and they’ll need it because without the ball it’s questionable if they’ll have the legs to stop Kildare’s fast-break and overload game as they pour forward in numbers. As for scoring, keep an eye out for the bench, as well as Ian Ryan and Collins, as they pitched in with 1-6 last time out.
Limerick: B Scanlon; A Lane, J McCarthy, L O’Dwyer; J Riordan, S Lucey, P Ranahan; J Donovan, S Buckley; E O’Connor, S Kelly, P Browne; G Collins, S O’Carroll, Ian Ryan
Checking the odds… Amazingly the bookies haven’t learnt their lesson after giving Kildare just a five-point handicap last weekend. This time it’s down to four points which is far more appealing than the 1-5 for the ‘home’ side to win outright. Limerick are 9-2 with the draw at 9-1.
Clues from the form guide… With Limerick there are none as this is a side that were stuck in Division 4, couldn’t reach a Munster final with just Clare standing in their way and who we thought would be dumped out of the championship last weekend. Credit them for a huge display but how much of that was tiredness on Longford’s part? We need far more convincing from Maurice Horan’s team after a rotten season. As for Kildare, they’ve never lost in the back door and look like a side out to prove people wrong after their shock exit to Meath in Leinster. While they have their flaws, under Kieran McGeeney they’ve always swatted away lesser sides and in recent years have been doing so more and more convincingly. These sides met in the qualifiers in 2008 as well, after Kildare beat Cavan then too, and they were lucky to escape. But Kildare are far superior to that version of the team while Limerick have aged, lack consistency and lack John Galvin, the heart and soul of the county.
The game breakers are… Possession. It sounds obvious but if Limerick don’t stop the short kickout and dominate around the middle they are going to be wiped out. Kildare have more pace, Emmet Bolton may end up scoring as much as the Limerick half-forward line, Alan Smith has returned to form, there are signs that the confidence so crucial to James Kavanagh’s game has returned and they’ll be supported by a back division and midfield that go up and down the pitch all day long. Without that ball for long chunks of the game, Limerick won’t be able to keep the score down and they’ll be drained of energy long before the final quarter.
Gazing into the crystal ball… Back in 2008 in the Gaelic Grounds when Limerick went close to beating these opponents, they tried to get physical and it worked to an extent. Yet here they are the smaller team and unless they show fearlessness around breaking ball they won’t get far. Mick Foley prefers to be at full-back but he and Rob Kelly are a better midfield than what Kildare had against Meath where Daryl Flynn had no support and he is also waiting in the wings along with Hugh Lynch should that area become a problem. After that Hugh McGrillen on Ian Ryan will only be fascinating if enough ball comes the latter’s direction, Ger Collins needs to come back with a bang and Stephen Kelly needs to get on the front foot and bother Kildare at that troublesome number six spot. It’s a lot to ask and even at that, such accomplishments will only get them close but not over the line. At the other end there is too much pace, too many scoring outlets and too many scorers for Limerick to handle. On top of that, there are goals here but they’ll be notched up by Kildare.
Verdict… Kildare by eight