Eight years since Kildare last graced a Leinster senior football final and Ollie Lyons knows only too well how long that feels.
The Celbridge defender was one of over 74,000 spectators in Croke Park that day as a Dublin side playing with 14 men for over 50 minutes after the dismissal of Ger Brennan stayed the course to complete a five-in-a-row of provincial baubles.
Lyons spent most of the day watching Hugh McGrillen, a fellow member of the corner-back union and a man from his own club. Lyons joined the county panel himself for the 2010 season little knowing the long wait ahead of him for an appearance on that same stage.
Times have changed. And much more besides.
Only two of the Kildare players who featured in that last decider, Emmet Bolton and Eamonn Callaghan, played a part in last Saturday’s semi-final defeat of Meath and both came off the bench two days ago.
This is a new generation, under new management, that is harbouring familiar dreams.
“I was just saying there, it is mad that it is 2009 since the last Leinster final and the most important thing was that we performed (against Meath),” said Lyons. The last couple of years we really underperformed.
Last year against Westmeath, that was the most disappointing thing.
“One of the biggest signs of underperformance is the GPS when you look at it after games and it was absolutely pathetic last year against Westmeath. This year it has been picking up and our S&C team have done a lot of good work so fitness levels are good and physicality is good.”
Meath were no match for them. Kildare identified their danger men and neutralised them, especially David Hyland who reduced Graham Reilly to an irrelevance, and to such an extent that Meath’s captain was substituted long before the end.
Kildare played with an energy and a sense of purpose that flagged only briefly during a third quarter when the onus was on Meath to squeeze a nine-point half-time deficit. Comfortable was the word that came to mind.
Kildare tick a lot of boxes: an imposing goalkeeper, aggressive backs who boast an ability and athleticism to bolt upfield, two wonderful midfielders and a collection of forwards that are big and bold enough to win ball and take their scores. All of it on a sound template fashioned by Cian O’Neill.
“The structure is getting there,” says Lyons, “but we’re not the finished article yet.”
Still, two consecutive promotions have been banked, Laois have been dismissed with ease and there was little enough aside from the fierce heat in Tullamore at the weekend to make them sweat as a Meath side with its own momentum was stopped in its tracks.
There was already a bubbling sense of anticipation in the county before this but the prospect of meeting Dublin, who face Westmeath in the second semi-final this Sunday, in the decider will ratchet that up further while, ironically, tempering the more outlandish of expectations.
That’ll do for now.
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