Heart to get better of head to keep Kildare season alive
Quarter-final Group One: Kildare v Galway (tomorrow, St Conleith's Park, 2pm, live on RTE2)
IT'S Newbridge or nothing for Kildare tomorrow afternoon as they welcome Galway to St Conleith's Park knowing that defeat would leave their season in tatters with a round of Super 8 action still to go.
The margin for error usually recedes as the All-Ireland series progresses and while the new group format does open the door for second chances, minor mistakes can still prove fatal.
Take these two teams. Both were involved in tight tussles in the first round but come into this match in completely different positions.
After last week's two-point loss to Monaghan, the Lilywhites desperately need victory to give them something to play for in their final group game in Kerry in two weeks' time.
Galway, by contrast, had three points to spare against the Kingdom and now sit in a very commanding position, safe in the knowledge that one win from their final two games with Kildare and Monaghan should be enough to secure a coveted All-Ireland semi-final spot.
That result in Croke Park last Sunday was more vindication of the good work being carried out by Kevin Walsh out west, ably assisted by Paddy Tally.
Their defensive set-up stymied Kerry's heralded attacking threat and it now means that they have kept the opposition to 14 points or less (goals and points combined) in 11 of their 12 games this season. The exception was Dublin's 0-18 tally in the Division One final when the Tribesmen saw their energy levels disappear in the final quarter at Croke Park.
They will have every confidence that they can keep Kildare to a similar number tomorrow, especially as the Lilywhites looked short on ideas when faced with a similar defensive conundrum against Monaghan last week.
A bit of composure down the final stretch may have secured Kildare at least a point against the Farney county, but they still needed a moment of magic from Daniel Flynn to keep them in the hunt as his early goal prevented Monaghan from establishing a more comfortable lead.
Their decision, particularly in the first half, to run straight down the middle, right at the Monaghan backline, seemed strange, even more so when they continued to do it after their first few efforts were easily repelled. In the second half it was their famed Achilles' heel – shooting – that cost them more dearly as Neil Flynn, Fergal Conway and Tommy Moolick coughed up good point-scoring opportunities.
Galway have shown a more keen eye in front of goal, although the 12 wides racked up against Kerry was a worry with Damien Comer failing to hit the heights that he has been for the majority of the season. He's unlikely to be as quiet again.
While Galway will enter the match relying on their head. Kildare will be chasing heart.
This fixture sold out very early and will echo Kildare's famous Qualifier win over Mayo last month.
They were emotionally fuelled that day by winning their battle with the GAA to have the game in Newbridge rather than Croke Park, and their performance was laced with guts and desire – and no shortage of brilliant shooting too.
Mayo hadn't shown anywhere close to the defensive discipline that Galway have to date prior to the game, but to post 0-21 was still a fantastic return from Cian O'Neill's side.
It's almost impossible to see them getting near that again though unless they raise at least two green flags. Only Roscommon have managed more than one goal against Galway this year, but Walsh's side have conceded four in three Championship outings having been breached just once in eight League games.
Neil Flynn and Daniel Flynn managed 1-5 of Kildare's 1-10 tally against Monaghan with the latter possibly the only attacker to get close to the highs shown against Mayo. The likes of Paul Cribben and Conway must get back to that level if their season is to continue with purpose.
Against Mayo that they had runners off the shoulder at every turn, men screaming for the pass. Against Monaghan the same desire didn't exist or perhaps they were just too cautious of being turned over by a counter-attacking specialist. They can't show the same fear this weekend.
Football seems more science than art these days but sometimes you can't put a price on the bounce that comes from playing on your own turf and in front of your own partisan fans.
In the drab surroundings of Croke Park last week, Kildare couldn't find that extra couple of percent that could have left them in a much stronger position. That shouldn't be a problem tomorrow though and with their loyal fans driving them on, they must show a bit more adventure when breaking forward.
They were let off the leash against Mayo and while the same freedom can't be expected here, management and players need to be braver than they were last week. They've already used the energy of Newbridge once to upset the odds and with their season at stake, they need to again feed from what should be a barnstorming atmosphere.
This is the weekend when the Super 8s will hopefully come to life and Newbridge could be central to that. The head might say Galway, but heart might just rule in this particular contest. Kildare by three.
CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON SO FAR
Carlow 2-14 Kildare 1-10
ALL-IRELAND SFC QUALIFYING
Round one: Derry 2-14 Kildare 2-22
Round two: Longford 1-13 Kildare 1-16;
Round three: Kildare 0-21 Mayo 0-19;
Round four: Kildare 3-20 Fermanagh 0-18
All-Ireland quarter-final Group One
Monaghan 0-15 Kildare 1-10
Galway 1-12 Mayo 0-12
Galway 4-24 Sligo 1-12
Galway 0-16 Roscommon 2-6
All-Ireland quarter-final Group One
Galway 1-13 Kerry 1-10
The Big Number
This Newbridge clash comes 20 years after Galway and Kildare met in the All-Ireland final. The Lilywhites were in their first final since 1935 but saw their hopes of glory dashed as 1-2 from Pauric Joyce helped Galway to a 1-14 to 1-10 win.