Former Dubs star, SHANE RYAN, gives his views on the Leinster Senior Football Championship, and focusses on Saturday evening’s semi-final between Kildare and Meath
I remember when I started playing inter-county football, Kildare and Meath were the top teams in Leinster and sometimes Dublin were only third strongest behind them.
Meath had just won All-Ireland finals, while Kildare reached the final in 1998, and both counties had some of the top players in the country on their teams.
It would be great for football to see them competing for honours again.
They are certainly on the road back to the top in the province – that’s where they really want to be – and both of them will fancy their chances on Saturday evening.
And I also think it’s far better for both counties that this game will be in front of a potential full house in Tullamore than in Croke Park, and it less than half full.
Both Kildare and Meath will be arriving with confidence after their quarter-finals and that will add to the atmosphere as well – it should be a cracking match.
I always loved playing in Croker – I’d find it hard to see who wouldn’t love it – but I equally loved getting the opportunity to compete in other grounds, whether it was in the league or championship. We always had a good crowd behind us and it created a great buzz.
Dublin travelled to Pearse Park to take on Longford in 2006 and the place was packed, though that was the only Leinster Championship match I played outside of Croke Park.
Also, I really enjoyed the Dublin versus Carlow match in O’Moore Park recently, and the fact that Carlow put it up to them added to the occasion. Although Dublin pulled away in the end to win comfortably, it was competitive for at least three-quarters of it, and Carlow didn’t leave the pitch with any regrets.
In fact, Dublin would be happier to be tested more often in Leinster. Even from a Dublin supporter’s point of view, you don’t want a winning margin that is ten, 15 or 20 points.
Both Meath and Kildare have introduced new, young players in the last few years and they need to keep working at it to develop the belief that’s needed.
For Meath to score 27 points in Parnell Park was very impressive, especially against a Louth team who are improving under Colin Kelly. And to put the moves together to get the bulk of those scores in the last 20 minutes, their fitness levels have to be excellent. Graham Reilly is a great leader for the Royal County, but all their forwards are capable of chipping in with important scores.
Meath, though, will have to look seriously at how they leaked three goals because Kildare will try to exploit any weaknesses on Saturday. Cian O’Neill’s forward line were in top form against Laois also, including target man Daniel Flynn.
Kildare are never lacking in fitness either, and reflecting on their league form and the boost they got with promotion to Division 1, I think they might just get over the line in this semi-final, but I would expect it to be extremely close.
Hopefully, the replay in Mullingar between Westmeath and Offaly on Saturday afternoon will be more entertaining than the drawn game, although the blustery conditions last Sunday didn’t help.
Maybe both teams were over-cautious and afraid to lose. Before the game, I though Westmeath would have shaded it, on the back of getting to a couple of Leinster Championship finals, but in the end Offaly were unlucky after losing two men, and Westmeath had to convert a free in injury-time to level it.
Each manager will know their own team a bit better now, and their opposition as well, and while it’s one of those typical fixtures that form can go out the window, I think Westmeath might just get through this time round.