Kerry's defence gives Kildare a chance but forward power should see them home in Killarney
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final, phase three: Kerry v Kildare (today, Fitzgerald Stadium, throw-in 6pm, live on SKY Sports)
DAVID Clifford heroics saved Kerry from the chop in Clones but was it merely a stay of execution?
With an eye-of-a-needle finish through a forest of Monaghan arms and legs, Fossa wonderkid Clifford blasted home a late goal to grab an undeserved draw for the Kingdom and deny the Farneymen a place in the All-Ireland semi-finals a fortnight ago.
For all that drama and effort to be worthwhile, Kerry now have to beat Kildare this evening and hope Galway can do them a favour up the road in Salthill against a Monaghan outfit who will seal the deal by avoiding defeat.
But if Monaghan lose and Kerry beat Kildare (who have no chance of qualifying) by enough to reverse a five-point scoring difference then it's the Kingdom who will go through in second place.
Their fate is out of their hands but where there's life there's hope for Kerry who still have enough to play for.
As for Kildare, after a two-point defeat to Monaghan and a three-point reverse against Galway, they are out of the picture but they have shown form and spirit in the ‘Super 8s' and, although they have ‘only' pride to play for, another mediocre display from Kerry could see them sooth any Monaghan nerves in Salthill by winning in Killarney.
Kerry – touted as potential challengers to Dublin at the start of this Championship season - have been very poor in the Super 8s. Jitters in their porous defence have spread throughout the team and it was only the individual brilliance of Clifford that kept them in the fight at Clones.
Manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice can't explain why his Munster champions have failed to show up for the new quarter-final system.
“I still don't have the answer as to why we were so bad against Galway even though I felt that we came on an awful lot in Clones against Monaghan,” said the Finuge clubman.
“The one thing I found different playing Monaghan was when we had the ball they were set-up in a very orthodox way while against Galway we found ourselves up against a complete blanket.
“We know that we are still not where we want to be in terms of our performance but the ‘chat' that goes on amongst supporters is something that comes with the job.
“A couple of wins goes a long way towards sorting that out.”
One of the major talking points after the game in Clones was Fitzmaurice's decision to take off misfiring forward Paul Geaney only to re-introduce him later in the game. Whether you look at it as a brave call or indecision on his behalf, Fitzmaurice says Geaney's presence helped create Clifford's goal chance.
“We needed a goal pure and simple and Paul is one of our best goalscorers alongside James (O'Donoghue), Kieran (Donaghy) and David Clifford,” the Kerry manager explained.
“You need to be flexible in some situations in a game and while bringing Paul back in might be considered a bit ‘left field' by some he managed to pull bodies away from David to give him the space to score the goal at the end.”
While Kerry have been poor, Kildare – who were beaten by Carlow in Leinster but recovered to beat Mayo at Newbridge in the Qualifiers – have been well worth the price of a ticket.
Their opener against Monaghan was tense but Cian O'Neill's Lilywhites went head-to-head with Galway in their second game. It finished 0-19 to 0-16 in favour of the Tribesmen after Kildare lost key forward Daniel Flynn to a red card 10 minutes into the second half. A subsequent appeal was unsuccessful and Flynn misses out on this evening's battle.
Fitzmaurice – who worked with O'Neill and Armagh native Jason McGahan (part of the Kildare management team) during his early days as Kerry manager – has been impressed with the Lilywhites' Championship form.
He will welcome Killian Young back from suspension this evening and he expects Shane Enright and Daithi Casey to return from injury. Whatever happens in Killarney, Kildare can't go through but they are determined to take Kerry with them.
“There's always something to play for when you are playing one of the top teams like that who have won many All-Irelands,” said wing-back Johnny Byrne.
“No matter what the stakes are you want to put down a marker and that's what we are going to do again.”
Kerry's lack of a tried and tested defensive system – one day it's a sweeper, the next they go man-to-man – always gives smart opponents a chance.
But, on the flip side, the ability of Clifford, Donaghy, Geaney, O'Shea and O'Donoghue means Kerry are always in with a shout.
Kildare's pairing of Kevin Feely and Tommy Moolick should win the midfield battle but the loss of Flynn should restrict their scoring potential, even against Kerry's defence.
Stung by criticism and with home advantage, Kerry should post the scores they'll need to create some nerves up in Salthill.
The score that Kerry racked up the last time they faced Kildare in 2015 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final. Kildare scored 0-10.