One step away

6 talking points ahead of Sunday's Leinster football semi-finals

Dublin, Kildare, Westmeath and Meath are gearing up for Sunday’s Croke Park clashes.

1. Can Kildare get one over on Dublin?

Recent history suggests not. Kildare haven’t beaten the Sky Blues in the Leinster senior football championship since 2000, when they won the provincial decider.

Two years ago, Dublin dished out a 4-16 to 1-9 trouncing to the Lilywhites at Croke Park in the Leinster semi-final but just a point separated the sides in 2011, when Bernard Brogan kicked a controversial late winning free:

VicMackey0 / YouTube

When Jason Ryan managed Wexford in four championship outings against Dublin (2008-2012), the aggregate winning margin for the Sky Blues was 37 points.

Ryan’s worst defeat at the hands of Dublin was a 23-point mauling in the 2008 Leinster final but it got better after that.

Wexford lost by seven points after extra-time in 2010, by three in the 2011 provincial showpiece and by four three years ago.

2. Will Dublin get that test they need?

With just a few notable exceptions, Dublin have ruled the roost in Leinster over the last decade.

Casting a long shadow over the province, the metropolitans have collected eight of previous nine provincial senior football crowns, falling against Meath in 2010.

DukeOfWellingtonIreland1815 / YouTube

Invariably, opposition teams opt for a policy of containment against a Dublin attack capable of wreaking havoc.

This presents Dublin with the opportunity to pick their way through packed defences but when they come up against better opposition in the All-Ireland series, they have been known to stumble.

What Dublin boss Jim Gavin will hope for on Sunday is a real test from Kildare, defensively and offensively.

He’ll want to see his forwards thinking their way through a sturdy Kildare rearguard, while also putting the shutters down against Lilywhite forwards capable of doing damage themselves.

3. Has Jason Ryan turned things around in Kildare?

Ryan presided over two successive relegations from the Allianz Football League and Kildare will ply their trade in Division 3 next year.

But the Lilywhites learned so much from their opening championship outing against Laois and after Tommy Moolick’s late point earned a replay, they put the O’Moore County to the sword the second attempt.

Tommy Moolick celebrates kicking the equalising point Tommy Moolick's late equaliser against Laois could turn out to be a pivotal moment in Kildare's season. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Seasons turn on small moments and with ball in hand after cutting in from the right touchline in the drawn encounter, Paul Kingston pulled an effort wide when a point would have secured victory for Laois.

What Kildare showed in the replay is that they are very much playing for their manager and behind the scenes, Ryan’s attention to detail is second to none.

He’ll now feel that he has his players operating the way he wants them to but Dublin present the acid test at Croke Park.

If, as expected, Kildare fall at the hands of Dublin, Ryan will feel confident of progressing through the back door to at least reach an All-Ireland quarter-final.

4. Can Westmeath finally banish their Meath hoodoo?

It’s already been quite a productive championship campaign for Tom Cribbin’s Westmeath.

The Lake County have already beaten Louth and Wexford to progress to the semi-finals of the Leinster campaign, and will fancy their chances of claiming Meath’s scalp at Croke Park.

Meath did put four goals past Westmeath when the counties met in Division 2 of the Allianz League but Cribbin’s men were wasteful in the first half, registering eight wides.

officialgaa / YouTube

Westmeath will need to find a scoring touch to improve on that performance as they registered just five points from play at Páirc Tailteann in March.

The counties last met in championship football in a round 2 qualifier in 2009 and Meath had ten points to spare against their neighbours in Mullingar.

Westmeath rattled Meath in the early noughties, most famously in 2003 when Dessie Dolan missed a late free to claim a breakthrough win, but they have yet to record a senior championship victory against the Royals.

5. Are Meath a force to be reckoned with again?

On paper, the Meath team to face Westmeath has a nice look to it, with a real blend of youth and experience.

At midfield, 21-year-old Harry Rooney has been marked out as a player to watch for quite some time and marked his full championship debut with a powerful display against Wicklow.

Stephen Bray, Mickey Newman and tireless Graham Reilly are experienced championship campaigners up front and long-serving Kevin Reilly will operate alongside Rooney at midfield.

Robert Lambert is beaten from the penalty spot by Andrew Tormey Andy Tormey netted a penalty for Meath against Wicklow. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Conor McGill should emerge as Meath’s long-term full-back but Mick O’Dowd’s men didn’t have it all their own way against Wicklow and need to improve against battle-hardened Westmeath.

Between them, Andy Tormey and Graham Reilly bagged 2-11 of Meath’s 2-19 tally in the Garden County victory and other players need to step up to the mark.

6. Will it be yet another Dublin-Meath provincial final?

If Dublin and Meath advance past their respective semi-finals, the old rivals will clash in the provincial showpiece for the fourth successive year.

Dublin-Meath clashes are the stuff of legend and while their four-game epic in 1991 was in the preliminary round, those stirring encounters managed to capture the attention of an entire nation.

Bryansford Gael / YouTube

Dublin is the game that Meath boss Mick O’Dowd wants but on all-known form, it still represents a step too far for the Royals.

Dublin hosed Meath by 16 points in last year’s Leinster final but O’Dowd believes that the gap has closed since then.

He may have a chance to find out next month but for now, both teams must first negotiate their last four clashes at GAA HQ.

Then, and only then, can we look forward to another instalment of a rivalry that rarely fails to disappoint.

Originally published at 09.13

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