Few would have predicted that Kildare would be almost assured of a semi-final place by the time of the visit of Mickey Harte’s Tyrone to Newbridge but that is the enviable position that Kieran McGeeney’s team find themselves in this Sunday.
Revitalised by the youthful exuberance of Niall Kelly and Daniel Flynn, Kildare have cut quite the dash so far in the league but Tyrone are likely to pose questions that Kildare have not yet answered.
The experienced duo of Stephen O’Neill and Sean Cavanagh top scored as The Red Hands impressively ended Dublin’s unbeaten start to the league in Croke Park last week and spirits are sure to be high in their camp following that result. Elsewhere in the forward line, Kildare will need to be wary of the likes of Martin Penrose, Mark Donnelly and Peter Harte. In defence, the McMahon brothers, Justin and Joe, will be charged with keeping an increasingly dangerous looking Kildare forward line.
Just how dangerous that forward line is may depend on how Kieran McGeeney decides to juggle his pack. The fact that Niall Kelly, Daniel Flynn and Paddy Brophy were withdrawn early during the under-21s win over Laois during the week suggests that they feature heavily in his thoughts.
Following a disastrous showing against Dublin, Kildare were much improved around the middle third during the win over Mayo in Castlebar and McGeeney will be keen to see that continue. The improvement was as much down to an increased work rate around the middle as the introduction of new goalkeeper Mark Donnellan but a switch after 20 minutes of the win over Mayo that saw Flynn move to midfield and Padraig O’Neill to the half forward line was crucial. If Flynn does appear from the start, it may well be at centre-field.
McGeeney will also be keen to get game-time into the likes of Eamonn Callaghan and Alan Smith and even Daryl Flynn and Dermot Earley but it remains to be seen whether or not he throws them in during this game.
St Conleth’s Park will benefit from an extra 1,500 people after the official capacity was increased following the successful manner in which the Kerry game was hosted earlier in the month. A capacity attendance is once again expected to witness a game that could have a significant bearing on the semi-final pairings as McGeeney’s men look to continue the good form that has seen them pick up eight points from five games.
VERDICT: Kildare to win by the minimum
KILDARE: Mark Donnellan; Ollie Lyons, Michael Foley, Hugh McGrillen; Emmet Bolton, Peter Kelly, Eoin Doyle; Hugh Lynch, Padraig O’Neill; Eamonn Callaghan, Eoghan O’Flaherty, Morgan O’Flaherty; Seán Johnston, Tomás O’Connor, Ronan Sweeney.
TYRONE: Niall Morgan; Aidan McCrory, Conor Gormley, Cathal McCarron; Ryan McKenna, Joe McMahon, Ronan McNamee; Colm Cavanagh, Sean Cavanagh; Patrick McNiece, Peter Harte, Matthew Donnelly; Connor McAliskey, Stephen O’Neill, Mark Donnelly.