29 May 2022

Preview: Kildare face Tyrone in tomorrows U20s All-Ireland final

Preview: Kildare face Tyrone in tomorrows U20s All-Ireland final

Kildare players huddle before the EirGrid GAA Football All-Ireland U20 Championship Semi-Final match between Sligo and Kildare at Kingspan Breffni in Cavan. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Traditionally, Kildare are not one of those counties that has craved ‘underdog status’ to the same extent as some others. Roscommon, Cavan, even Galway to a lesser extent, are all quite famous for their tendency to crumble under the weight of the favourites’ tag, but to relish an opportunity to be ‘written off’, which is of course, manager-speak for one pundit tipping the opposition to win by a point or two at the end of the tight game.

However if Brian Flanagan was of a mind to try and dampen down pressure and expectation ahead of next Saturday’s Eirgrid All-Ireland U-20 football final, he really couldn’t have asked for the two semi-finals to be played out any better way.

First up was Kildare’s game against Sligo in Cavan, where the freescoring exploits of this group, which were in full view in three very tough Leinster championship games against Laois, Offaly and Dublin, were nowhere to be seen.

Incredible defensive play was the trump card that won the trick for Kildare, but from the outside looking in, it looks like an inexperienced Sligo side, playing in their first even All-Ireland semi-final at this grade, were dazzled by the bright lights in the first quarter of the tie, before then putting up a good fight.

To a degree, that’s a fair reflection — however this was a gross simplification of a game where Sligo were far better than a lot of people realise. Yet the bare facts are that it was 0-4 to 0-0 after 16 minutes, and it was 0-8 to 0-7 thereafter, with Kildare adding a couple of late breakaway points while Sligo chased goals. That will be the takeaway for a lot of people who only look at short highlights packages.

Then on Sunday, Tyrone went out against a very highly-rated Kerry side and gradually got to grips with the threat posed by key attackers Dylan Geaney and Kevin Goulding, while at the other end of the field, Rúairí Canavan’s reputation continues to grow with every passing game.

The son of the famous Peter Canavan scored eight points this time, including four from play and one mark, meaning that there’s more than just brand name recognition from his father causing the young Errigal Ciarán player to be so closely watched as a future star.

From a situation where the two sides will have been considered to have been at roughly the same level coming into the last four, Tyrone will now be the clear favourites to prevail in the mind of most neutral observers this week.

A closer look would suggest that Kildare have a lot to be positive about this week. First and foremost, the incredible discipline that this group has shown in tackling situations will be a valuable weapon. Cavan defended brilliantly against Tyrone in the Ulster final, but conceded seven points from frees, as opposed to just four from play — and just one to a starting forward.
In general, this is not a Tyrone team with a balanced scoring threat all across the attacking lines, which makes it all the more important not to foul players that perhaps aren’t there for their scoring prowess.

The starting half-forward line from Sunday’s semi-final win over Kerry was Ciarán Daly, James Donaghy and Seán O’Donnell. Each of these players started all four Tyrone matches so far this year, contributing the sum total of 0-4 between them, 0-2 from Daly and a point each from the others. In contrast, the inside forward line has seen Rúairí Canavan score 0-27, Ciarán Bogue 1-7, and Conor Cush 1-5. This is where the threat lies, but equally, Kildare’s greatest strength seems to be their full back line, which has developed incredibly well over the course of this competition. Kildare should be ready to ‘hammer the hammer’ on Saturday.

In the spirit of most Tyrone teams, this current U20 side will happily drop back and get plenty of men behind the ball, which puts an extra emphasis on speed in transition, and having a long ball option — not necessarily to use it frequently, but to keep the Tyrone defence honest.

Many American Football teams use their running game on 40 to 50% of all plays, not because they’re good at it, but because it forces the opposition defence to commit men to stopping it, and so open up greater opportunities to bring the wide receivers into the game.

In that spirit, Kildare need to show Tyrone early that they’re happy to try and hit Eoin Bagnall and Aaron Browne from deep positions. If Tyrone have to honour the long ball option, covering defenders have to get right back to their won 20 metre line, which will in turn make it easier for Kildare to run the ball up into the long distance scoring zone, where a foul might lead to a scoring opportunity.

Midfield too, looks like an area where there could be immense scope for success. Kildare were very strong in this sector in the first half of Saturday’s game against Sligo, but the balance of power shifted a bit in the second half when Sligo midfielder Joseph Keaney took his team on his shoulders and tried to carry them over the line.

It wasn’t to be for Keaney, but his dynamism really unsettled Kildare, while the steady supply of kickout possession that lad the foundations for Kildare’s 0-8 to 0-3 half-time lead, dried up.

Tyrone will have a similar player in the form of midfielder Michael McGleenan. Admittedly, while Keaney is a very natural player and a fluid striker of the ball, McGleenan would be right at home in an NFL running back role, such is his bulldozing style. But expect McGleenan to try and drive this Tyrone group from the middle, perhaps switching in an out of full forward for a couple of short bursts too, and he’s likely to pose a tough test for Luke Killian this weekend.

In the air however, Kildare have that little bit of extra power, and they need to make that count if at all possible.
Leaving aside the personnel matchups, there has been plenty of disappointment in the county that Croke Park wasn’t chosen for the venue for what is a huge game for both counties, and also that the option of putting the game on at 12 noon, before Sunday’s Leinster semi-final between Westmeath and Kildare, wasn’t considered.

Realistically, Tyrone were never going to agree to that, plus the logistics of doing that when one fixture is under the auspices of Croke Park and the other is a Leinster Council tie, wouldn’t be simple. All that said, Carrick-on-Shannon very much came out of left field.

It’s a long trip, there isn’t a huge capacity so there will certainly be an atmosphere and maybe even some pressure for tickets, but ultimately it’s a field of grass, and Kildare need to treat it like an incidental factor, rather than as a perceived slight on either this fixture, or as some people online have suggested, Croke Park’s ‘payback’ for Newbridge or Nowhere!

The aim should be to repeat the routine of last week, use the modest venue to help them shed the nerves that might surround an All-Ireland final, and instead concentrate on the simple, footballing test that lies ahead for them.

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