So the draw has paired us at home against Kildare, a match that’ll be played next weekend. An announcement is expected shortly on the precise details for the game. (UPDATE: It’s now been confirmed that the game will take place on Saturday evening at 7pm).
As I mentioned last night, we’ve only ever played them once before in the championship, way back in 1935 at the tail-end of what was a golden era for the Short Grass County. They won back-to-back All-Irelands in 1927 and 1928 – becoming the first holders of the Sam Maguire Cup on the latter occasion – and in the period from 1926 to 1931 they won six Leinster titles on the spin.
They’ve only won four provincial titles since then and the first of those was in 1935. We won Connacht that year and then met the Lilies in the All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park on the last Sunday in August that year. They beat us that day by 2-6 to 0-7 in that semi-final (Pathé newsreel here in case you missed it last night), going on to lose the final to Cavan by four points. Greater things awaited us, of course, the following year.
But Kildare’s great years were drawing to an end and they didn’t win Leinster again until 1956, with another long gap until their gallop all the way to the All-Ireland final under Mick O’Dwyer’s stewardship in 1998. They celebrated winning that All-Ireland for a solid fortnight before the match was actually played and then went out and got mugged by a Galway team that came into the final completely under the radar.
The Lilies won Leinster again in 2000 – the last year before the current championship format was introduced – but once more Galway had their number. The Tribesmen beat them by 0-15 to 2-6 in that year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
That millennial provincial success was Kildare’s most recent Leinster title but they’ve made a name for themselves in the qualifiers since then, frequently battling through the backdoor to make it to the All-Ireland series. I don’t have the stats to hand – where’s the results archive in the Kildare GAA Blog when you really need it? – but I’d hazard the guess that the Lilies have one of the best win/loss ratios in the qualifiers. That’s the first reason we should be wary of them next weekend.
We may have a ships-in-the-night relationship with them in the championship but we’ve seen plenty of them in recent times in the League. The successive relegations they’ve suffered since 2014 has meant that we haven’t played them in the spring for two years but the last time we did – back in February 2014 – they beat us in a shootout on the League’s opening day at Newbridge. The year before that they came down to MacHale Park in mid-March and unexpectedly (well, we didn’t expect it) landed us on our arses. So going into Saturday evening they’re gunning for three wins on the spin over us, not to mention back-to-back championship victories. That’s maybe the second reason we should approach this one carefully.
Kildare’s form this year has been up and down. Last year finished with that humiliating whipping by Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final (see what I mean about their ability to make it to August?) and under new manager Cian O’Neill – a man who needs no introduction to us – they started off life this year in the lowly surroundings of Division Three.
But they knuckled down well to the job of securing promotion. A 2-9 to 0-11 win against Westmeath in Mullingar got them going and this was followed by victories over Offaly (at home, 1-12 to 1-8) and Longford (away, 2-11 to 0-10). Division Three does look a lot like a Leinster round-robin, doesn’t it?
Limerick in Newbridge came next where Kildare squeezed out a one-point win over the Shannonsiders (1-11 to 1-10) before suffering a shock one-point reversal to Sligo, going down 2-15 to 2-14 at Newbridge. They made up for this in the penultimate round, hammering Tipperary by 2-13 to 1-5 in Clonmel and they finished as Division Three table-toppers by beating Clare in Newbridge on a scoreline of 0-22 to 1-14 in their final match. So, six wins out of seven with four home ties in the regulation fixtures.
Their League campaign finished on a downer, though. Back in the familiar surroundings of Croke Park for the Division Three decider in late April, Clare turned the tables on them, fighting back sensationally to snatch the divisional title by 2-17 to 1-19.
The Leinster championship wasn’t exactly a ball of fun for Cian O’Neill’s side either. An 0-9 to 0-8 quarter-final win over Wexford in mid-May looked as poor a contest as the scoreline suggests, a match played out in front of banks of empty seats at Croke Park. Their semi-final against Westmeath at HQ drew a bigger crowd but it was here Kildare’s Leinster hopes foundered as they blew a six-point lead to lose by one on a scoreline of 1-12 to 1-11.
Like ourselves, Kildare joined the qualifiers at the Round 2B stage. On Saturday evening last, back at St Conleth’s Park in Newbridge, they got back on the proverbial horse, overcoming Offaly by 1-22 to 2-14.
And so to Castlebar they’ll be coming on Saturday evening. We can expect them to present a similar type of challenge to the one we faced against Fermanagh two days ago and so, while the bookies might have installed us as red-hot favourites to advance (Paddy Power have us priced at 1/8 to win), we know we’re going to have to up it again from the last day if we’re to keep our qualifier run going.
What do you reckon, will we do it? Is revenge for 1935 about to happen?