Kildare must back firepower with defensive improvement

When the greatest defender to ever pull on a Lilywhite jersey took over the managerial reins of his county, most assumed Glenn Ryan would build from the back by establishing a strong defensive base.
Kildare must back firepower with defensive improvement

Kildare manager Glenn Ryan during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Kildare and Westmeath at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

When the greatest defender to ever pull on a Lilywhite jersey took over the managerial reins of his county, most assumed Glenn Ryan would build from the back by establishing a strong defensive base.

However, as they prepare to take on Dublin in Saturday’s Leinster Senior Football Championship final, that has not been the case so far.

Albeit against teams who competed in Division 3 this season, Kildare have been electrifying going forward in their two Leinster Championship games, racking up 2-22 and 1-21 against Louth and Westmeath respectively. In those games it took just 22 minutes against Louth and then 20 minutes against Westmeath for all six starting forwards to get on the scoresheet from play.

Ryan currently selects his team from a greater array of attacking talent than any Kildare manager has in recent memory. Dublin will know all about Daniel Flynn who has consistently caused them problems in previous meetings at Croke Park. 

Jimmy Hyland, star of the 2018 U20 All-Ireland winners, has grown into the most consistent Kildare forward since Johnny Doyle and only an early season injury to Darragh Kirwan has prevented him from having a greater impact over the course of this season.

In the half-forward line, Ben McCormack is in the form of his life and has arguably been man of the match in both of Kildare’s championship games. They were the four scorers picked by Ryan against Westmeath, along with hard working wing forwards Paul Cribbin and Alex Beirne, and all done with the likes of Neil Flynn, Brian McLoughlin and Shane O’Sullivan in reserve.

If Dublin do have frailties at the back then Kildare have plenty of firepower to worry them but it is what Kildare do defensively, and how they cope with Dublin’s attack, that will decide if this final is any closer than the other meetings between the two counties at Croke Park over the last decade.

Kildare have coughed up numerous goal chances in the Leinster Championship and conceded one against Westmeath with less than 15 seconds on the clock.

After last year’s Leinster final against Dublin, then Kildare manager Jack O’Connor received criticism locally for what was perceived as an overly cautious approach so finding the balance between defence and attack will be pivotal.

The return of corner-back Ryan Houlihan, who missed the Westmeath game through injury, would be a boost for Ryan but the problems at the back seem structural as much as about personnel, which is maybe to be expected for a team still in their first year under a new manager.

“Once we score more than the opposition, then we’ll take that,” said Ryan, when questioned about Kildare’s defensive issues after the victory over Westmeath.

There’s no Kildare man around who won't take that on Saturday, but a marked improvement in defence will needed for that to come to pass.

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