KILDARE manager Kieran McGeeney expects big things from his senior stars when the county under-21s play Meath tomorrow night (6 March).
The Lilies meet the Royals in the quarter-finals of the Leinster championship at 7.30pm with Niall Kelly, Paddy Brophy and Daniel Flynn the headline names for the visitors thanks to a string of fine performances with the seniors during a perfect season so far.
“We have strong players but it’s a big week for them. Niall (Kelly) had a Fresher’s final last week (for UCD) but came in today and had a very good game, as did Daniel (Flynn),” said McGeeney after the senior side’s league victory against Kerry on Sunday. “There will probably be a lot of expectation on them on Wednesday night but they are big lads and hopefully they will stand up to it,” said McGeeney.
The Armagh man is hopeful that the experience the likes of Kelly, Flynn and Paddy Brophy have had in their fledging senior careers will give them an edge but he is well aware that they will be for some close attention when the ball is thrown in in Navan.
“It’s possible that the experience will help but they will be well looked at. Teams will have their own plan to stop them but they are going to have to expect that if they are going to be the main players,” he said.
As well as that trio who have made the headlines this year, Padraig Fogarty, Fionn Dowling and Tommy Moolick (this year’s captain) have significant senior experience while goalkeeper Mark Donnellan and defender Jonathan Byrne and Celbridge pair Mick Konstantin and Fergal Conway have also been in around the senior panel. And that’s without even mentioning the mercurial talents of Sean Hurley and Paul Cribbin.
Cribbin has been injured for most of the year and is only just getting back to fitness so he’s unlikely to be risked from the start against Meath though he may make an appearance at some stage. Athy’s Tony Gibbons and Celbridge’s David Hughes are other injury concerns although Gibbons should be fit to start.
It all points to a very strong team but McGeeney tried to play down expectations and he feels that Meath will have a significant advantage having beaten Louth by 3-13 to 1-7 in the preliminary round.
“It’s quite a difficult age group because you just have a one-off game,” he said. “If a team gets a bit of a run on you they can get away on you. Last year Alan (Barry) did a great job with the under-21s, they were winning every game coming up to the championship game against Offaly then just couldn’t score in the last ten minutes of that game and lost by a point. That’s the way it goes. Meath already have a game under their belt, like Offaly did last year. I’m not trying to put pressure on them but it really is worth three or four points in this competition to have a game in the preliminary round and come into the quarter-final with a win already. We’ll be up against it, it’s in Navan and nothing is ever got easy in Navan. They play a good system and have very, very quick forwards inside.”
It’s now four years since Kildare last won an under-21 championship match when they beat Carlow in 2009. Since then, Kildare have lost four games in a row. There have been some hard luck stories along the way and in the last two years Kildare have lost by a solitary point against Wexford and Offaly.
The current under-21 squad contains the bulk of players who overcame Dublin after an unforgettable trilogy of games in a Leinster minor quarter-final in 2010. Unfortunately those games took a lot out of the team and they managed to fall at the semi-final stage to Longford but there is a steely determination to make amends now.
Soccer star Kevin Feely is the one notable absentee from that minor group but expectations have risen following the displays of Niall Kelly, Daniel Flynn and Paddy Brophy for the senior side this year.
The 21s have played the likes of Kerry, Crossmaglen Rangers and Tipperary in challenge games in recent weeks. Should Kildare progress, an away tie against Laois or Wicklow awaits in the semi final.
Mark Donnellan; Michael Konstantin, Jonathathan Byrne, Barry Egan; David Hyland, Fergal Conway, Sean Higgins; Thomas Moolick, Daniel Grehan; Liam McGovern, Niall Kelly, Daniel Flynn; Paddy Brophy, Fionn Dowling, Pádraig Fogarty. Subs: Shane McNamara, Daragh McGlynn, Declan O’Flaherty, Shane O’Hagan, Gavin Farrell, Seán Hurley, Conor Murphy, Kenneth Swords, Hugh Mahon
2009 – Lost to Laois, 3-11 to 0-11, Leinster Semi-Final
2010 – Lost to Westmeath, 1-6 to 0-6, Leinster Round 1
2011 – Lost to Wexford, 0-13 to 0-12, Leinster Quarter-Final
2012 – Lost to Offaly 0-8 to 0-7, Leinster Quater-Final