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Facing the Dubs in a packed Croke Park 'can tend to be a very lonely place' - Niall Kelly

Kildare were on the end of a 19-point beating by Jim Gavin’s side in 2015.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

OF ALL HIS days in Croke Park, not many rank lower for Niall Kelly than Kildare’s heavy loss to Dublin two years ago.

Dublin’s 5-18 to 0-14 mauling of Lilywhites in the 2015 Leinster semi-final left the losing side longing for the final whistle long before it arrived.

Experiencing such loneliness while surrounded by 50,000 people in Croke Park is not something he’d like to face again soon.

“It can tend to be a very lonely place,” he says. “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 quick.”

Kelly arrived off the bench that day to score a point against the Dubs, but it was an utterly forgettable experience.

He’s hoping Kildare leave Sunday’s Leinster final with happier memories, even against this all-conquering Dublin outfit seeking a seventh provincial title in succession.

In their second year under Cian O’Neill, Kildare are showing signs of significant progress.

They’ve already secured promotion back to Division 1 in the league, while they comfortably accounted for Meath to reach a first provincial final since 2009.

Cian O'Sullivan with Niall Kelly Kelly tackles Dublin defender Cian O'Sullivan during their 2015 clash Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Jim Gavin’s side are a different prospect to any challenge Kildare have faced so far, and Kelly is likely to be tracked closely by Cian O’Sullivan this weekend – one of the game’s elite defenders.

“Going into games, I tend to try not to look at who I’m directly marking too much,” Kelly explains. “It’s a funny one because against Meath they were probably pretty much man-marking everyone so it is definitely a (different) kettle of fish.

“Croke Park is a funny place. It’s very hard for anyone to be man-marked because it’s so big. It’s about getting our system right more than anything because Dublin have been working on their system and have it fairly down to a tee.

“It’s just about breaking that down rather than breaking one man down. You’re probably going to be marking six at any one time; you don’t know who you’re going to be up against.

“It’s an unknown in terms of who you’ll be marking but you know there’s going to be a system that’s going to be hard to break down.”

Niall Kelly Kelly was at the Kildare Leinster final press night Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

After their Division 2 final defeat to Galway in Croke Park, Cian O’Neill said he could sense a lot of nerves from his squad during their pre-game formalities.

Does the centre-forward feel anxiety will be an issue for Kildare this weekend?

“There might be a few more nerves coming into a Leinster final as opposed to playing Dublin. I’m sure if we were playing Meath, Westmeath or anyone in a Leinster final those nerves would be there.

“It’s probably built up more for the players than it is. The fact it’s Dublin and what they have won and achieved the last few years probably does add a bit more to it and probably pressure and less expectation from supporters, to be honest.

“The fact Kildare haven’t been in one or won one in some many years, that in itself is pressure.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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