McGeeney: Lilies can upset Dublin

It is 11 years since Kieran McGeeney and his Armagh team-mates inflicted a deep wound in the psyche of Dublin football by beating the Blues in a dramatic All-Ireland semi-final.

McGeeney went on to make history when lifting the Sam Maguire Cup that September and played another five seasons before accepting Syl Merrins’ offer to take the plunge as an inter-county manager with Kildare.

Apart from two O’Byrne Cup successes, he hasn’t enjoyed the type of fortune that aided Armagh in 2002, when Ray Cosgrove’s late free hit the upright.

Two narrow championship defeats have been his lot, with plenty of controversy surrounding the injury-time free that gave Dublin the win in 2011. This time, it was the Dubs that went all the way to finally end an agonising 16-year famine without an All-Ireland.

Mentally and physically, Dublin are a completely different outfit these days to what McGeeney encountered as a player. Now they are a “juggernaut”, combining belief and power with natural flair.

“They have a huge confidence going into all games,” says McGeeney. “The way they have been playing... you know they’ve changed definitely over the last 10 years. They are far more physical and bigger.

“Even look at the half-forward line. (Ciarán) Kilkenny is very young; Paul Flynn — probably pound-for-pound the best footballer in the country at the minute, in my eyes. Diarmuid Connolly is out there too now.

“There’s a very mobile midfield and (they’re) aggressive in Michael Darragh Macauley and Cian O’Sullivan. They put in two half-backs that just attack at will — James McCarthy and Jack McCaffrey.

“They have moved onto a different level I feel this year, so it is going to be tough to stay with them, but, as I say, that’s why we all play.”

Those last five words are important because good and all as McGeeney says he thinks Dublin are, he believes his crew can win.

And that’s even if he did field six debutants and seven U21s in the quarter-final defeat of Offaly. With Seán Hurley back in the mix now too, the overhaul of the Kildare squad since last year has been radical.

“Whether it’s a wee bit early for the younger fellas, it’s hard to say. They have added great freshness to the panel. They are different styles of players, the likes of Daniel Flynn, Niall Kelly, Paddy Brophy, Paul Cribbin, Mark Donnellan, even young David Hyland and Mick Konstantin, a lot of fellas from the U21s.

“We have 12 or 13 of them on the panel I think this year, a huge change in anybody’s set-up, but I think it’s for the good. Whether we have the physicality this year to match the top teams is yet to be seen, but I definitely feel those young fellas have the football.”

Their emergence has led to previous stalwarts such as Morgan O’Flaherty, Alan Smith and Ronan Sweeney taking a back seat. They are continuing to provide him with selection headaches though, something he welcomes.

“It is a cliché: these are the games you want to play in. But they are. It’s where you find out how good you really are. There is no pissing about. You want to be out there, see what’s happening against the best.”

McGeeney is aware that there is a school of thought out there suggesting despite the fact that Kildare are fielding such a callow unit, and are 4/1 outsiders to win, this is make-or-break for them under his stewardship.

“You can’t put too much emphasis on it. Again, it always depends on who you’re listening to out there. Especially on the TV.

“Whether it’s a ‘do-or-die’ game... you try telling those 19-year-olds we have that this is the be-all and end-all of their career? It is hard to explain to young fellas that it’s all about the now. They believe that they’re invincible at this age. And that’s a good thing. Especially for Sunday.”

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