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21/09/2021

High stakes as Kildare take on Meath

Promotion to Division 1 for winners of Sunday's big game in Newbridge

High stakes as Kildare take on Meath

Jason Scully, Meath, is tackled by Mark Donnellan in the Leinster SFC semi final 2020

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Coming out of Croke Park in mid-November, after Meath had filled the Kildare net on no less than five times in the second half in the Leinster SFC semi final, little did we think that, initially we would be still operating under covid restrictions but also that these sides would meet some seven months later with a place in Division 1 of the Allianz Football League at stake.
With the League format changed, due to the virus, The Lilies found themselves operating in a four team group, described as Division 2 South, that included Cork, Clare and Laois.
Meath on the other hand were in Division 2 North, along with Mayo, Westmeath and Down.
Just three games before the semi finalists would be known but despite that both promotion and relegation were still in operation; a little harsh without question but that is what the powers-that-
be decided.
Top two teams in each group advance to the semi-finals with the bottom two going into a relegation section.
One of the stipulations handed down by Croke Park was that if a team, in any division, reached their league final but were penciled in to play championship within a week of that final, then no final would in fact be played, the two teams that won their semi finals would auto-
matically be promoted to Division 1 for the 2022 season; the league title being shared by the two teams promoted (it could only happen in the GAA).
There has been much talk of how having no league final is actually diminishing the Allianz League, but I wonder.
Apart from Division 1 there is just one agenda on Division 2, 3 and 4 counties, and that is gaining promotion, actually winning the league is not a factor, in fact, league finals, apart from Division 1, have been non-events, not really taken seriously and often looked upon as simply getting in the way of championship preparation.
As it has turned out in 2021, even before the semi finals are played in Division 2 and 4, there will be no finals in either due to the start of the championship so the two winners of the semi finals will be playing their league football in Division 1 and Division 4 respectively.
In Division 1 North, Mayo completed their three game programme undefeated. Opening with an excellent 2-21 to 1-11 win over Down and then defeating Westmeath 0-21 to 2-12, while their final games was a dead rubber, nevertheless they defeated Meath 3-17 to 2-12.
Meath began with a tough game against neighbours Westmeath and while they only scrambled a win by a point it was nonetheless a vital win, Meath 0-16 to Westmeath 0-15 and then, just like Mayo had their semi final place booked once they defeated Down 2-15 to 0-14.
While they lost to Mayo in Round 3, as stated this was already a dead rubber and The Royals took the opportunity to experiment, giving some of their fringe players an opportunity to show their wares.
In Division 2 South Kildare opened with an excellent result, defeating Cork, a game played in Semple Stadium due to The Rebels breaking training restrictions, with The Lilies winning 2-12 to 0-14.
A set-back against Clare in Newbridge saw The Banner defeat Kildare for the second season in a row, this time by three points 1-13 to 0-13. In the final game of the group it was off to O'Moore Park for Jack O'Connor's side, Kildare proving way too strong winning by all of 13 points in the end 2-18 to 1-8.
That big win saw Kildare not only book a semi-final place but they also claimed top spot in the group, on scoring differences, from Clare while Cork must play in a relegation semi final.
A toss of a coin saw Kildare handed home advantage in the semi final and on Sunday they take on Meath with the winner going straight to Division 1, the same scenario for the other semi final participants Mayo taking on Clare.
With counties operating in such a tight framework for games, injuries were always going to come into play and Kildare certainly picked up enough of their own.
In the opening Cork game, Daniel Flynn, who hit two mighty points, one off each peg, before pulling up with that dreaded hamstring injury coming back to haunt the talented Johnstown-
bridge man once again. It forced Flynn to miss out on both the Clare and Laois games; he is on the mend, and played in a game last weekend and how he feels after that in training this week will determine his availability for Sunday.
David Hyland missed the Clare game but came back to give a typical display of his against Laois. Another worry for Kildare is Eoin Doyle. The Naas man was forced off in the Clare game, that probably cost them the game, but played against Laois, although manager O'Connor admitted that he was not 100 per cent but took a chance and played him “he is such a vital part of the team.”
In fairness Doyle came through that Laois game and hopefully a week's rest will have him one hundred per cent for Meath this weekend.
Another worry for Jack O'Connor saw Kevin Feely failing to reappear after the half time break against Laois. O'Connor again admitted that the Athy man was carrying an injury. According to the manager early this week “we are still monitoring Kevin Feely at the minute.”
A lot has changed in the Kildare panel since these sides met back in Meath. For instance one third of the team that played back then were not involved against Laois and while Meath had just four from the side that won the Leinster SFC semi final, that was a game with nothing at stake with fringe players getting their chance.
Despite Kildare losing to Meath in Croker in November the score line is a bit surreal in many respects. Kildare played some top class football early on, were in control for most of the opening half, leading by six (0-10 to 0-4) at the break but then fell asunder, conceding five second half goals to lose out eventually 5-9 to 0-15.
That five goal concession did not only sting Kildare it stung Jack O'Connor big time and he made no bones about that after that game.
The Kerryman put a lot of that defeat down to where Meath were, physically at that stage, as to where Kildare were. “Meath have been together for a number of seasons at this stage, they were much more physical than us; were fitter and it showed” said O'Connor in his post match comment.
Still it should be remembered that The Royals had just been relegated from Division 1 at that time, having failed to win a single game and collected their one and only point of that league in their final game which they drew with Monaghan.
There has, no doubt, been a big turn-over of players on the 2021 Kildare panel but having said that of the seven that started at the back that day against Meath, as many as six could be starting on Sunday.
The main changes this time around are in midfield and in particular the forward division, with some very exciting young forwards that certainly have the talent to make their mark over the next while. There could be as few as two of the front men lining out on Sunday but, as usual, that will also depend on availability, fitness and training.

One way or another The Lilies are a mere 70+ minutes from joining the top counties in Division 1, that would be some achievement, albeit in a league of just three games but it would give some lift to Kildare GAA, not to mention turning the tables on The Royals which of course will not be easily done but The Lilies do go into it with a pep in their step nevertheless.

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