THE last time these sides met there was much more at stake. The date was August 2, 2009, the venue was Croke Park and it was All Ireland quarter finals day.
Tyrone made it through but were halted in their tracks by the Rebels in the penultimate round. Since then the Red Hand men have been relegated from the top division of the NFL and are very much hot on the heels of Kildare in their attempt to make it back to division 1.
From the outset Micky Harte’s team were the favourites to bounce straight back up but they suffered defeats in rounds one and two and people began to question such a tag.
Write Tyrone off at your peril however, as Kieran McGeeney pointed out last week. Since those defeats, to Derry and Donegal, respectively the Ulster side have come good. Three victories on the trot followed and now only one point separates these sides in the table.
Tyrone have beaten Laois, Sligo and Antrim and some would argue that the latter two teams are the weakest in the division but nonetheless the Red Hand man completed their task and got the points. Against Laois they were particularly strong in the first half, led by 1-7 to 0-3 after a stunning goal from Colm Cavanagh but fell off the pace somewhat in the second. Laois moved Kevin Meaney from full back to midfield and this switch by Justin McNulty went a long way to curtailing the visitors to O’Moore Park.
This Tyrone team has been hit devastatingly hard by tragedy and in some ways their two early defeats didn’t come as a surprise. Derry prevailed by the minimum on opening day in Celtic Park. The home side appeared to be cruising when they led by four points with as many minutes left to play but a late rally from their opponents saw them cling to a slender lead and the final whistle brought pure relief for John Brennan’s side.
Tyrone’s worst performance to date came at home to Donegal in the second round. Harte’s men only put a meagre six points on the board and it was after this performance that talk of possible relegation to Division 3 began.
Such talk must have spurred the Red Hand men on and in the third round they finally put points on the board after a 2-15 to 0-15 victory over Sligo is Markievicz Park. Both Stephen O’Neill and Sean Cavanagh came to life to ensure the six point victory despite Tyrone finishing out the game with 14 men.
Win number two came at Healy Park against Ulster rivals Antrim. Tyrone put in a great second half display and had five points to spare by the time the long whistle was sounded by the referee.
Kildare seem to have put the defeat to Derry and the horror show in Donegal behind them. It looked like the Lilies promotion hopes were all but gone after a dismal display and a draw in Letterkenny but victory over Laois and Meath have them firmly back on course.
Kieran McGeeney’s side are now second in the Division 2 table just one point behind leaders Donegal, who are thus far undefeated.
Donegal are expected to remain at the summit after this weekend’s round of fixtures as they appear to have the easier game. They take on Antrim at home and are very much so expected to take the two points and move on to ten at the top.
Kildare’s game with Tyrone, on paper, doesn’t appear to be as easy but if McGeeney’s men want to be at least in with a shout of making the Division 2 final, they need take at least a point away from Omagh on Sunday afternoon.
There have been some huge positives to take from Kildare’s last two performances. Winning two tight game in succession has to boast confidence, while if Rob Kelly performs again how he did against Meath he will be a handful for any defence.
However, there are some not so great stuff to be addressed by McGeeney, Carew and O’Rourke. Kildare’s midfield is just not good enough at the moment and they are sorely missing Dermot Earley. Against Meath the Lilies were cleaned out around the centre and starting Daryl Flynn at full forward seemed like a strange decision. The Moorefield man moved out to the middle for a bit but then returned to full forward but surely he should be kept in the middle in his best position. God knows the Lilies could do with him there.
Another concern is the centre back position. Johnstownbridge’s Brian Flanagan does not look at all comfortable in the centre and perhaps a swap with Gary ‘Chalky’ White might do the trick here.
Eamonn Callaghan, who has missed the last two games through injury, has proved a big loss for Kildare but on a brighter note Morgan O’Flaherty is on the way back and on the way back well.
The Carbury man came on as a substitute against the Royals in Newbridge and his class certainly shone through and his return is a big boost for McGeeney.
On the injury front Eamonn Callaghan returned to training this week after being out with a foot injury. Management are waiting to see how the Naas man responds to training before making the decision as to whether or not Callaghan will start on Sunday afternoon.
Kilcock’s Ciaran Fitzpatrick has recovered from his broken arm but another set back has ruled him out for another few weeks at least. He has picked up a hamstring injury and won’t be back available for Sunday anyway.
Selector Niall Carew is delighted his side are still in the hunt for promotion and although there was a slight blip along the way the St Kevin’s man is pleased with Kildare’s division 2 campaign this far.
“I think we did perform against Derry but we just missed a lot of chances, especially frees. It wasn’t a polished performance but a performance nonetheless.
“In Letterkenny we definitely got out of jail but we’ve picked up five points out of a possible six in our last three games and we had to battle hard. It was great to come back and get the draw in Donegal and we came out on top in tight games against Laois and Meath,” said Carew.
Carew knows going to Healy Park won’t be an easy assignment but insists if his side are to have promotion hopes this is the sort of game they should be winning.
“All these games are tough. Both Tyrone and Sligo are coming in to a rich vein of form and it just so turns out we have to play them in our last two games and if we want promotion we have to beat them,” insisted the selector.
He added: “The game against Tyrone was always going to be vital. They’re a good team and you want to be testing yourself against good teams.”
Throw in in Healy Park is at 2.30pm.
• Tom Cross is running a bus to Omagh, Sunday 3 April, leaving St. Conleth’s Park, Newbridge at 9 am, return fare E15. Contact Tom at 086 2568827 or June Kelly 086 1050722.