Simon Leacy, Kildare defender
Kildare step on to the sacred turf in Croke Park at 4 pm on Sunday with one aim, to bring the Christy Ring Cup back to the county for the third time since its inception back in 2005.
With wins already in 2014 and again in 2018 (runners-up in 2007) David Herity and his management team of Declan O'Toole, Paul Dermody and Ronan Williams, will be looking for the icing on the cake this weekend as they have already gained promotion to the Joe McDonagh Cup come 2021; a major achievement in its own right.
Opponents, Down, have one Ring Cup to the credit, that was in 2013 when they defeated Kerry but they (Down) have also been runners-up on three occasions; in 2005 (v Westmeath); 2009 (v Carlow) and last year when they lost out to Meath, in a high scoring encounter, 4-19 to 2-15.
Hardly any need to say this has been a difficult season for all counties due to the coronavirus but in many respects it has been doubly difficult for Kildare, with the county subjected to a second lockdown.
On the home front the senior hurling final (Naas v Confey) was postponed due to the second lockdown and while Kildare boss, David Herity was hoping to get that final done and dusted so players could concentrate entirely on the county scene, nevertheless, on his own admission, the postponement turned out to be a bit of a bonus as it enabled him to get in three or four extra training sessions he had not been expecting.
The postponement of the opening round of the Ring Cup, against Offaly, was a huge disappointment but again it enabled another training session or two to be completed, the worry of course going into the opening game against Wicklow was the lack of competitive games.
A team can have as many training sessions as they like but it is competitive action that really sharpens things up but having said that the game against Wicklow, in horrible conditions at St Conleth's Park, confirmed The Lilies hunger, their drive and their eagerness to succeed were all there for all to see.
The semi final against Roscommon turned out to be a bit of non event and while Roscommon led by a point after some 20 minutes or so, by the time they (Roscommon) added another score in the 44 minute Kildare had added no less than 3-10.
Sunday's opponents Down defeated Derry by three points (1-13 to0-13) before coming up against what most expected to be nothing more than a formality against the competitions hot favourites Offaly, a game played in Newry.
Over the past few seasons Offaly have dropped out of the Liam McCarthy and last season their was utter shock when they dropped again, this time to the Christy Ring and it was generally expected that, although they had begun a rebuilding job, the Faithful boys would be heading straight back to Level 2.
In a rip-roaring game at Newry, the sides were level at full time and after extra time they were still inseparable, forcing the game to a penalty shoot-out.
Offaly scored their opening two penalties while Down had their first effort saved but from their on Down took control, finding the net with their next three shots while Offaly had one shot saved and one hit wide and so Down marched on to Sunday's final, winning 3-2.
These sides met in the League (Division 2B) back in March in Newbridge, the boys in black and red winning by two points (0-19 to 1-14).
Derry and Down were both promoted to Division 2A, Kildare losing out by a single point, apart from the loss to Down, a draw against Derry was where the real damage was done.
Having said that that defeat at the hands of Down, a close game that could have went either way, was Kildare's only defeat in 2020.
Kildare boss, David Herity is very happy with his squad at the minute.
“We have great numbers at training; we have a lot of young lads in with us and while they won't be in contention for game time on Sunday, they are showing in training they have the ability to step up when the time is right.”
Not unexpectedly Naas have a major input on the starting XV, particularly up front where Jack Sheridan, team captain Brian Byrne; James Burke, Conor Dowling are all playing well.
David Slattery is a huge addition this year and his pace can cause a lot of problems for Down; the Confey man has the knack of bringing other players into the game; at times one would think if he was a little bit selfish he would score more himself, but he has the ability to draw frees (due to his pace) while he certainly has an eye for a player, better placed than himself, and is not shy of using him.
Paddy McKenna at this stage is a very experienced net-minder having served his time under Paul Dermody for a fair few years; ironically Paddy's understudy is his fellow Clane man, Mark Doyle, who is more than a decent keeper in his own right.
John Doran has the experience at no. 3; Niall Ó Muineacháin, Rian Boran and Kevin Whelan from a more than decent half back line.
In the middle of the field Paul Divilly is a fair operator Conor Dowling partnered him against Roscommon and did well but if things are not going to plan, team captain Brian Byrne, is no stranger to moving out from the edge of the square if needed.
There is no doubt that Down, after that win over Offaly, will be full of confidence.
The fact that they were there last year, albeit losing out to Meath in the final, will have to stand to them.
Will that win over Offaly, extra time and penalty shoot-out take a bit of getting over inside a week on can only speculate, we will have to wait and see but two teams that have the ability to score big-time suggests we could be in for a high scoring game.
One way or other and regardless of Sunday's result, both teams have achieved something they have been trying to achieve for a few years now, competing in the Joe McDonagh Cup come 2021.
Won't be a lot between them on Sunday on a historic weekend in Croke Park with the Bloody Sunday commemorations taking place on Saturday and the Leinster SFC final throwing-in at 7 pm after those.
But as far as Kildare and Down are concerned, Sunday is their day, hopefully we get a game to remember and a win would certainly be the icing on the cake.
KILDARE PANEL: Brian Byrne (Naas) cpt.; Cathal Derivan (Leixlip), Cathal Dowling (Naas), Cathal McCabe (Maynooth), Cian Forde (Maynooth), Cian Shanahan (Clane), Colm Chan (Confey), Conor Dowling (Naas), Conor Gordon (Coill Dubh), Conor Kielty (EO/CC), David Qualter (Maynooth), David Slattery (Confey), Declan Molloy (Ardclough), Drew Costello (Ardclough), Jack Sheridan (Naas), Jack Travers (Leixlip), James Burke (Naas) , Jamie Connolly (Celbridge) , John Doran (Leixlip), Kevin Aherne (Naas), Kevin Whelan (Naas), Liam Dempsey (EO/CC), Mark Doyle (Clane), Muiris Curtin (Moorefield), Niall Ó Muineacháin (Celbridge), Paddy McKenna (Clane), Paul Divilly (Confey), Rian Boran (Naas), Richie Hogan (Naas), Rory O' Neill (EO/CC) , Ross Kelly (Naas), Sean Christanseen (Clane), Sean Whelan (Ardclough), Shane Ryan (Naas) , Simon Leacy (Naas), Tadhg Forde (Maynooth). Additional players: Mark Delaney (Coill Dubh), Ronan Dunne (Maynooth), Aarn Kelly (Ardclough), Sean Bean (Maynooth), Gerry Keegan (Celbridge), Cathal Melville (Leixlip), Caolan Smith (Clane), Conor Nolan (Maynooth), Harry Dunne (Maynooth).
MANAGEMENT: David Herity (Manager); Deckie O' Toole, Ronan McWilliams, Paul Dermody (coaches/ selectors); Paul O' Donovan (S&C); Laura Talty (Physio); Colm Nolan (Stats); Stephen Nolan (Stats); Richie Hogan (Kit Man); Stephen Sheeran (Video Analysis).
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