Following the snow-enforced hiatus, the National Football League resumes once more this coming weekend. Ourselves and Kildare are keeping each other company at the foot of the Division One table at the minute and we’re set to get up close and personal on Sunday too when we meet at Newbridge in what is for both counties a must-win game. Throw-in is 2pm at St Conleth’s Park and the ref is Monaghan’s Martin McNally.
Kildare have spent the last few years out of the top division in the League. They dropped out of Division One in 2014 and then finished bottom of Division Two the year after. They bounced back up to the second tier in 2016 and were promoted again last year.
This means it’s been a while since we’ve crossed paths with each other. Our last two meetings – in 2013 and 2014 – ended in wins for them. They beat us by 1-11 to 0-13 at MacHale Park in a Round 5 encounter in March 2013, at which time we looked destined for relegation but then ended up making the play-offs. The following year they got the better of us by a point in an opening round 2-19 to 2-18 shootout at Newbridge on a day when Aidan O’Shea became the first Mayo player to receive a black card in a competitive fixture. We made the play-offs that year too and Kildare finished up in the bottom two.
Their wanderings in the lower depths of the League since then mean that Sunday’s meeting with them is our first League clash in over four years. Our most recent meeting with the Lilies was, though, in the championship two years ago when we came face-to-face in the qualifiers.
The back door was still a bit of a novelty to us then and on a glorious mid-July evening – I’d cycled the Westportif in idyllic conditions earlier that day – we blew them to bits at MacHale Park, winning that Round 3B encounter by 2-17 to 0-14. Diarmuid O’Connor, who bagged 1-5, was our standout player in that game but the Ballintubber man’s form has never really reached those heights since, thanks in no small part to the injury he suffered arising from the vicious kick he got in the leg from Emmet Bolton after scoring the goal.
So what have Cian O’Neill’s charges been up to over the last while? Let’s start with last year’s NFL and have a quick gallop through their matches since then.
They had a positive Division Two campaign last year, winning five of their seven matches and getting promoted along with Galway. Their mood would have been good from the start when they thumped Meath by ten points at Navan in the opening round and then they had a real morale-boosting four-point win over Cork at Newbridge in Round 2.
Celtic Park can often be a tricky spot to get a result in (maybe not nowadays but it wasn’t always thus) and Kildare came a cropper there in the third round last year, losing to Derry by a single point. Back on home turf in Round 4, however, they crushed Fermanagh by four clear goals.
Two more wins followed. The first was a five-point victory away to Down in Newry, while the second was a one-point win over Clare at St Conleth’s Park.
By the time they met Galway at Pearse Stadium in the final round, both counties were already assured of promotion. Galway put an end to the Lilies’ winning run that day, coming out on top by 0-14 to 0-13, and a week later at Croke Park they beat them again, this time in the Division Two decider where the final score was 0-18 to 0-16.
Leinster saw them on the opposite side of the draw to Dublin so it was fairly predictable – let’s face it, the ‘race’ for the Delaney Cup is anything but unpredictable – that they’d end up in the decider against the 1/500 favourites. They did, and equally predictably, they got a paddling once they reached the decider.
Before that they beat Laois by 1-21 to 1-7 in the quarters and went on to swat Meath aside by 2-16 to 0-13 in the semis. Then, however, it was their turn to be dealt with unceremoniously, Dublin cantering to a 2-23 to 1-17 win in the final.
Kildare know their way round the qualifiers but last summer’s back door run proved a short and unhappy one for them. They were paired with Armagh in Round 4 and the Orchard County came away from that Croke Park meeting with a 1-17 to 0-17 victory.
The Short Grass County’s run of losses has continued this year. They needed another meeting with Dublin like the proverbial hole in the head but were paired with them for their opening round match in this year’s League. In fairness, they gave a good account of themselves in that match in late January, sticking two goals past the Dubs but still losing by 2-17 to 2-10.
Since then, they’ve had no luck at all. Three more defeats, two of them by just a single point – losing by 1-10 to 0-12 in Newbridge to Monaghan, and by 1-16 to 0-18, also at St Conleth’s Park, to Tyrone. Despite a super start against Donegal in Ballyshannon last time out they came up agonisingly short once again, losing that one by 1-15 to 3-7.
So, although the Lilies are rooted to the bottom of the table and are everyone’s banker for relegation, the last thing we can afford to do is underestimate them. The manner in which we lost our last three games compares badly to the battling way they went under each time.
Set against that you could argue that all of our matches – one of which we managed to pinch a win in – have been against the top teams in the Division, while they’ve played teams that are, aside from Dublin, in the bottom half. No, I’m not sure that line of argument flies at all myself either.
What’s beyond doubt is that a fourth loss on the trot for us will push us into an almost irretrievable situation, not least in light of the head-to-head rule. The flip-side is that a win for us on Sunday will leave us well poised, once again, to avoid the drop. It really is a must-win game for us.
It’s a game the bookies – Lord love them, we haven’t lived up to our billing in the money markets too well this year – fancy us (just about) to win, pricing us at 4/6. As ever, though, we won’t leave the last word to the lads who call the odds: who do you think will win this crunch match on Sunday?
How will we do against Kildare?
- Win (73%, 261 Votes)
- Lose (21%, 75 Votes)
- Draw (7%, 24 Votes)
Total Voters: 360