For a team with just one win in their last eight trips to Croke Park, the fact the opposition is Dublin makes Kildare’s challenge in this Sunday’s Leinster final all the more onerous.
Niall Kelly doesn’t shy away from that fact or that he senses expectation in the county following the comprehensive win over Meath has been dampened by the manner in which the All-Ireland champions crushed Westmeath the following weekend.
Dublin can’t be ignored but then Kildare can’t afford to be obsessed with them either.
“It’s something that we can’t dwell on at all. Going into this match with the four-week break, you can tend to think about the match a lot and delve into things a bit more than you should. It’s just important that we keep the heads down and not focus on what we can’t control. We can’t control the venue or the opposition so we just have to focus on ourselves.”
The Athy man accepts Croke Park can be a hostile place when things have gone against Dublin never mind facing their illustrious neighbours with their army of supporters.
“There might be 50,000 or 60,000 at it but you can be very lonely on the pitch. A good early start is important against a team like Dublin who are clinical and ruthless at the best of times. That’s up to us to ensure we start quickly.”
In UCD, Kelly would have played with Dublin players like Jack McCaffrey. He would find it hard to motivate himself to beat them by disliking them.
“But going into a game like this any loyalties can’t come out,” he stresses. “They have to be put to the back and you just have to focus on a performance.
“In fairness, going through the league and the championship, Cian (O’Neill) and the lads have been good at keeping our heads focused on the next game and there would never be that element of hatred towards any team. I think that’s a bit of a myth that maybe was there a few years ago.
“Like, there is just a rivalry between Kildare and Dublin there that has always been there. It still remains, but I think everything has gone a bit more professional than that old school rivalry being the main motivation.”
Kildare players like Kelly know what it is to beat Dublin at under-age level. That history has its benefits but then its limits too.
“It will help a little bit in lads’ minds and our panel would be the core of those minor and U21 teams but it’s a different setting and stage and different lads can get nervous. It’s nice to know that those Dublin lads aren’t untouchable altogether.”
Nothing more than a win will satisfy Kildare, insists Kelly.
“People outside the group may feel us losing by a few points would be a good result, but to us we may never get back to a Leinster final again. Who knows, it could be another eight years and a lot of our team would be gone. The only result we can set ourselves up for is a win and we have to work towards that.”
Kelly doesn’t subscribe to the theory Dublin are where they are because of the finances at their disposal.
“Fair enough they had success but I think it has been built on just putting good systems in at under-age, and they have done it really well, in fairness to them. You have to take your hat off to them. I think that’s where it stems from more so than buying success, if you get me, the way some people would put it.”
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