Paul Divilly lines out at midfield for Kildare on Saturday
The 2020 season for Kildare hurlers began, believe it or not, in November 2019.
Yes November, or to be exact on Saturday November 30; the venue was Birr and the opposition was no less a team than Offaly.
As we awaited for the start of the 2020 season, a full month before the calendar moved into a new season (the same day as news came through that Dublin's Jim Gavin announced his retirement) the discussion, amongst the few in attendance, centred on two topics.
(1) What the hell were the authorities at scheduling the opening game of the Kehoe Cup in November; and (2) how the mighty (Offaly in this case) had fallen, down to Level 3 in the pecking order of the hurling world.
Offaly, not surprisingly, won comfortable that day (2-28 to 0-18) but Kildare manager David Herity was not unduly worried as he fielded a fairly experimental side, eight lads getting to wear the white at this level for the first time.
A week later The Lilies were out again, this time in Newbridge, the opposition was Down, and another defeat.
Fast forward to the Allianz Hurling League (Division 2B) and Kildare had a decent win over London (January 26) on a score line of 2-26 to 0-20; before a massive win over Warwickshire (5-19 to 0-1) - both wins of course expected.
A draw away to Derry (2-16 to 3-13 for Kildare); followed by a win over Roscommon, but it was the final game of the League that was the real killer, losing to Down in Castlewellan by two points, 0-19 to 1-14. That was the game that deprived them of promotion, the two teams going up to Division 2A being Derry and Down.
That final League game was played on March 1, soon to be followed by the outbreak of coronavirus; the lockdown.
Eventually, as we opened up again, the Christy Ring Cup was due to recommence, Kildare due to play Offaly, but that was then called off, The Lilies receiving a walk-over as a number of Offaly hurlers tested positive and The Faithful boys had to concede a walk-over.
So despite no game, the walk-over saw Kildare into the 'winners' section and a game against Wicklow at St Conleth's Park, on a terrible day for hurling.
Down the years Kildare and Wicklow have had some mighty battles, with little between them at the best of times. However, Kildare showed great character and tremendous work-rate that day and it really pleased manager David Herity, as they won on a score line of Kildare 2-14 Wicklow 1-10.
Jack Sheridan - without it has to said playing to the top of his game - scored an impressive 2-5, with James Burke knocking over three points and while David Slattery, who only a few weeks previously announced his retirement from the county football scene, scored just a single point, nevertheless the Confey man had an impressive game, heavily involved throughout, showing tremendous ability to bring other players into the game, in a very selfless display.
Kildare then had to wait to see how other games panned out before the draw for the semi finals was made and it pitted Kildare against Roscommon, in Newbridge; with the firm favourites Offaly drawn to take on Down, also Saturday, in Newry.
However, in a change this year, the two teams that reach the Christy Ring final will automatically be promoted to the Joe McDonagh Cup, just one rung below the Liam McCarthy, so Saturday's clashes are vital as promotion would be not alone be a great boost for Kildare, but also a great achievement.
David Herity made no bones about that following the win over Wicklow. Expressing great pride in the way his side had performed against Wicklow, he said getting into the Joe McDonagh “would be a tremendous boost for Kildare.”
The manager said that this year he has had more players training that the previous year and was very happy with the effort they were putting in, especially in these times.
As said Kildare have already defeated Roscommon in the League, 5-21 to 2-12, avenging a defeat they suffered in 2019 in the Christy Ring (0-20 to 1-15) which deprived them of a semi final place.
Roscommon were defeated by Wicklow in their opening game by two points, 2-19 to 3-14 but last week bounced back with a win over Sligo (2019 Nicky Rackard champions) 0-20 to 0-17 to qualify for the semi final; a game The Rossies finished with 14 men.
The sides were level on 55 minutes but The Rossies hit three points soon after the second water break to hold out to win by three and book their semi final spot; a game incidentally that saw both teams scoring no less than a dozen pointseach from placed balls.
All things considered, and playing in Newbridge, Kildare should go into this one in a very positive frame of mind.
Jack Travers who picked up a shoulder injury against Wicklow will miss this one but against that Ross Kelly will be back in contention, having finally served a one match ban that dates back to the final League game against Down at the start of March.
Kildare look a stronger side than 12 months ago; decent at the back; strong in the middle but it is probably up front where they are strongest with team captain Brian Byrne, Jack Sheridan, James Burke, the Dowling boys and David Slattery, adding a new dimension to the team.
KILDARE team v Roscommon, Saturday November 14, St Conleth's Park (behind closed doors) throw-in 1.30: Paddy McKenna; Simon Lacy, John Doran, Cian Shanahan; Niall Ó Muineacháin, Rian Boran, Kevin Whelan; Cathal Dowling, Paul Divilly; James Burke, Jack Sheridan, Conor Dowling; Tadhg Forde, Brian Byrne cpt, David Slattery.