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Ciarán Kilkenny expects Minor rivalry with Kildare to resurface at Croker
Ciarán Kilkenny is expecting a serious test when he squares off with some old foes on Sunday.

DUBLIN’S CIARÁN KILKENNY maintains his side’s stroll in Croke Park last day out was far from a redundant exercise, in spite of it amounting to a 31-point victory.

The Dubs face Kildare at Headquarters on Sunday having seen off Carlow and Westmeath in the Championship thus far, with the latter fixture producing the biggest margin of victory they’ve achieved during Jim Gavin’s five-year tenure.

In spite of their procession to the final, however, two-time All Star Kilkenny is of an imperturbable persuasion that every game is of significant value, regardless of how facile the triumph. Even a game in which he registered his first Senior goal for Dublin, and kinged it in Jim Gavin’s attack, the Castleknock man is adamant that each game provides pointers as to how he and the Dubs might improve next time out.

“There’s so much you can learn from every game – even five minutes of a game,” he argues. “There’s things to learn from every phase of play, with the way the game’s gone. Stats are so important. After every game you sit down and go through most plays, and see what you can learning you can take from every play in the video analysis. I think that’s a big part of the game these days, and I suppose it keeps the game evolving, while the technology keeps evolving.

“Obviously you have your own video analysis and you get your own stats. You’d look at it yourself and discuss it within the group, with other players. Probably the best thing to do after games, when you’re looking to learn or improve, is I’d generally ask another player, ‘How do you think I did? What do you think I need to improve on?

“That’s important in a culture or a team, that you have that honesty. So generally I’d go to a player and get some feedback, and then obviously you’d be talking to selectors and people like that. But first of all you look at yourself.”

Up next at HQ are Cian O’Neill’s Kildare, who did for Meath in Leinster almost a month ago. It will be the Lilywhites’ first provincial final in eight years, but they’re more than a mere blip on Kilkenny’s radar; he faced many of the current panel at both Minor and under-21 level, with one particular Minor tie in 2010 spanning a full three games before Dublin were sent packing by their near neighbours.

The 23-year-old is staunch in his rejection of three-in-a-row talk, and uses Dublin’s impending task as a prime example of why Jim Gavin’s men don’t look beyond their most immediate fixture.

“You can’t afford to think about a three-in-a-row. It might seem boring, but with Dublin we genuinely wouldn’t mention it at all. At all. Kildare are obviously a serious challenge the next day having beaten Meath. Having looked at them, they’re a very good team, a very athletic team. They have good forwards and a good defence, a good system. They obviously have lads coming back from Australia as well with great physicality and athleticism, so we know it’s going to be a serious game.

I wasn’t surprised to see how good they were the last day, because I would have played against a lot of them at under-21 and Minor level, and they would have beaten us a couple of times. A Minor game went to a second replay. We drew the first day, drew the second day, and they beat us in Navan the third day. So you get to know lads you’re playing against when you play them three or four times. I would have played against a good crop of that team, I’d say the majority of them. I even came across a few of those lads back in Australia as well. They’re seriously physical and athletic, but they’re also very skillful. They’re a very good side, like! So we’ll have to be performing very well if we want to retain our Leinster title.

“There’s a good rivalry there. I’m really, really looking forward to it, now. We’ve put in two performances this year, and potentially, if we’re successful, we’ll have four games left [including Leinster final]. If we lose we could have six or seven, like. If you think you deserve credit, you can’t be thinking like that. You have to focus on what’s ahead of you, and Kildare’s ahead of us, so that’s what we’re focusing on. In any sport – if you’re playing basketball, rugby, soccer – if you’re looking at the past or looking at the future, you’re just going to get knocked down. You need to look at what’s ahead of you, what’s present, what’s coming up next. You can’t look down the line.”

That being said, Kilkenny isn’t averse to dipping into the history books when it’s put to him that, for all of his precaution, Dublin should remain streets ahead of a resurgent Kildare on Sunday.

It’s his experiences as a young Dublin fan as opposed to a Senior player which remind him that Dublin’s dominance isn’t eternal.

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“Well, even though I’m saying you can’t look back, there is a great deal of knowledge that you can extract from the past, as well,” he says. “If you look back to 2011 in Croke Park, Dublin only beat Kildare with a last-minute free. That’s only a couple of years ago. I mentioned those minor games, and that rivalry does linger, like. It does live on. It will be competitive. The lads are excited about it, because they know it’s going to be a great challenge.

“You have to prepare for every game the exact same. You can’t be altering your routine before every game because that just doesn’t work.

“You have to give every team the respect that they deserve. Every team is putting in the same work. To this day, every team has the same technology and they put in the same amount of hours. And that’s the beauty of sport: anyone can beat you on any given day. To respect them, you prepare as hard as humanly possible, and you give the best performance out on that field that you possibly can.”

Throw-in at Croke Park is at 4pm.

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