Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# expert view
Positive signs for Kildare and Meath, Carlow deserve credit and sympathy for Diarmuid Connolly
The42′s columnist Johnny Doyle looks back at a hectic weekend of Leinster football action.

WAS YESTERDAY A sign that two Leinster football counties are starting to turn a corner?

There’s been so much discussion about Dublin’s dominance of the province and the absence of challengers.

pjimage (3) INPHO Daniel Flynn, Bryan Menton and Diarmuid Connolly INPHO

We’ve seen Kildare and Meath both slip back over the last few years but yesterday was a good day for football in both counties.

When you look at them both they’re at a similar stage of development. There’s a bunch of young players coming through on either side and two managers starting out trying to put a stamp on things, -albeit Cian O’Neill has an extra year done over Andy McEntee.

They’ve set up a semi-final on 17 June that could be a cracker. It’s funny, as a player I always loved to be in Croke Park but now as a spectator I prefer going to provincial grounds for games.

It does so much for the atmosphere playing a game in a place like Tullamore. The town was buzzing yesterday before the Kildare-Laois match. It’ll be the same on Saturday. You’ll get a big crowd, both teams and sets of supporters sensing there’s a huge opportunity.

A view of spectators Donall Farmer / INPHO Spectators in Tullamore yesterday Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

It could well be a bit of a shootout judging on yesterday’s games. Both Kildare and Meath like go out to have a cut, and given they hit 1-21 and 0-27, the two sets of forwards should be flying high on confidence.

I was a bit nervous heading to O’Connor Park yesterday about Kildare’s chances. Laois had a game under their belt and I felt that would have got rid of any rustiness for them. They’d a few big physical men in the spine in their team who were capable of giving a Kildare tough time of it.

What we saw was very different, Kildare were just on a different level from start to finish. Donie Kingston’s goal got Laois off to a great start but that was much as they had to offer.

From a Kildare viewpoint, there was very little to be negative about after the game. We’ve been critical of Kildare at times when looking at how far they are behind Dublin but yesterday showed how there’s a big gap again to other counties and that’s very disappointing for Laois.

Hitting 1-21 with 13 different scorers was really impressive by Kildare and that’s without Ben McCormack and Neil Flynn, two leading contenders to be corner-forwards. Cathal McNally came in there and was very impressive and David Slattery worked so hard.

A big plus was the form of Daniel Flynn. He hasn’t played a championship game for Kildare since 2013, struggling with injuries and form over the last while since he came back from Australia. We got glimpses yesterday though of what he can do.

Daniel Flynn with Darren Strong Donall Farmer / INPHO Kildare's Daniel Flynn Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

He showed what serious pace he possesses, I’ve always thought he could rival Jack McCaffrey in that way. Some criticism came his way during the league about his end product but yesterday Daniel was excellent. His pointin the first-half was phenomenal when he sprinted across, shouldered a Laois player to cause him to drop the ball and then with the outside of his left boot, hit over the point.

There was a lot of honesty to Kildare’s play as well. We hear so much about blanket defences and it’s really important to get the balance right between defence and attack. Kildare had that against Laois, Fergal Conway was immense with his work-rate for example at half-forward even though he didn’t score. That’s very encouraging for them.

Meath will be happy themselves heading into the semi-final. They put up a really big score and got a huge performance out of Graham Reilly. You could never doubt his ability but he was immense against Louth, producing some top-drawer scores. He always wanted to be involved, always wanted to get on the ball.

I was struck by their play around the middle third. Cillian O’Sullivan and Eamonn Wallace in the half-forward line, along with the midfield of Menton and Jones brought a lot of pace and power. That’s a great launchpad for Meath and something they’ll look to build on.

Bryan Menton and Brian Sheridan after their win over Louth Bryan Keane / INPHO Meath's Bryan McMahon and Bryan Menton celebrate their victory Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

We got the result we expected on Saturday night in Portlaoise but Dublin will be distracted by something else after the match. I think if 90% of players did what Diarmuid Connolly did, nothing would be said about it.

But he’s a guy who’s always in the spotlight. He’s such a fantastic player but plays a little bit on the edge and that gets him into these situations. The biggest question for me is how did he get so irate over a line ball?

Those 50-50 decisions always happen during games. It seemed strange to see him visibly angry about an incident like that in a game that they were completely in control of.

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I’ve sympathy for Connolly in that I’m sure every time he goes out, there’s always likely to be plenty verbals aimed in his direction. That’s hard going to be on the receiving end of that sort of stuff. He’s only human and it’s natural to get fed up at times.

Diarmuid Connolly speaks to linesman Ciaran Branagan James Crombie / INPHO Diarmuid Connolly speaks to linesman Ciaran Branagan James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

But he didn’t need to aggressively react like he did. Dublin could have done without that talking point from a routine win. By the letter of the law it was minor interference, you can’t put a hand on officials. Dublin will be worried about the possibility of further punishment for Connolly.

Victory never looked in doubt for them but Carlow deserve a lot of credit. It can be a case of damned if you and damned if you don’t with how teams set up against Dublin. But ultimately going out against this Dublin team without a defensive plan is ludicrous.

Turlough O’Brien is a shrewd football man. He’s been around a long time. Certain quarters may criticise him for how Carlow set up but I thought it was the right thing for them to do. They competed very well until Brendan Murphy was sent-off, the loss of their talisman rippled through their team as he was a big loss.

Jim Gavin and Turlough O'Brien James Crombie / INPHO Jim Gavin and Turlough O'Brien after the match James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Their other midfielder Sean Murphy was just immense, you’d have paid in to look at him alone with the way he took the fight to Dublin and drove at their defence. I thought the fitness levels Dublin have built up told in the last quarter and they ran out easy winners in the end.

But it’s not being patronising to Carlow to commend them on how well they did. They can be very happy with how their championship has gone so far and there’s a lot to build on for the qualifiers.

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