Talk of the decision by Seamus McEnaney to bring back Graham Geraghty reached a crescendo last week, but thankfully most people have now moved on to the discussion on whether the Royals can actually outlast Kildare in Croker tomorrow.
All the available evidence points to a Kildare win. They pulled away from Meath in last year’s quarter-final to win by eight points and followed it up with a win in Newbridge in this year’s league. They have had the benefit of the win over Wicklow already in the Leinster championship and in Johnny Doyle, they have this game’s best footballer. To boot, Kildare had a reasonable league, garnering nine points out of 14 — losing only to Tyrone and Derry.
Meath, on the other hand, picked up three points from the 14 available in the league, the only win coming against Sligo. They did perform well in their last game drawing with Tyrone but holes appeared in the defence with Tyrone carving out five goal chances that day, albeit only taking one.
Shane O’Rourke has been carrying a groin injury throughout the league, Joe Sheridan has had a very quiet league by his standards and Stephen Bray returned from three months travelling at the end of the league and has only some club championship matches and a few inter-county challenges under his belt. With no form and question marks over key players, Meath have to hit the ground running at Croke Park.
On the plus side for Meath, goalkeeper Brendan Murphy is in great from and Kevin Reilly should have the physique to handle big Tomas O’Connor at full-forward. In last year’s quarter-final, Meath had no defender to handle John Doyle but Shane McAnarney did a good marking job on him in the recent league encounter. Graham Reilly is in very good scoring form while Patrick O’Rourke, although not named, at 6ft 5in could be a handful at full-forward if used correctly. Indeed if teamed up with Geraghty, they could create real problems for Kildare.
Training under Martin McElkennon has gone really well, as did last weekend’s training camp in Monaghan. I would expect a big performance from the Meath players. They were conspicuously silent when Eamon O’Brien was removed as coach last season, the players seemingly keen for a more professional set-up. Now they have no excuses if they fail to perform. Throw in a bit of revenge for a very tame exit to the Lilywhites last year and all the ingredients are there for a Meath ambush.
Up front, Kildare don’t cut through you like Kerry might and Padraig O’Neil, Ronan Sweeney, Eoghan O’Flaherty and Alan Smith are inconsistent scorers. James Kavanagh has not started many games and doesn’t look the player he promised to be last year.
The one thing I would say about Graham Geraghty is that the more attention he can bring on himself, the better he will perform. And with all the furore, there is no chance of Seamus McEnaney not introducing him. I would expect Graham to make some contribution. His return will take the focus off the U21 debutants Bryan Menton and Ciaran Lenihan, but Kildare are on their guard now, so there is less chance of an ambush.
On the basis of the last couple of encounters, the Kildare defence has the measure of the Meath forward line. Although Meath can bring in Geraghty, Patrick O’Rourke and Brian Farrell, with Kildare being such a good second half team, Meath may struggle to get the ball up the field to do the necessary damage.
I take Kildare to win.