Saturday, Cork v Kildare, NFL Division One, Pairc Ui Rinn, 7pm
HIGH-FLYING Kildare are on a twin mission to Leeside as they attempt to consolidate a winning start to 2013.
Cork, on the other hand, are seeking their first win over inter-county opponents in a season that has started very sluggishly.
Part of Kildare’s strategy will be to erase the bitter memory of last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final thrashing by their hosts, a result that nearly saw Kieran McGeeney call time as manager.
Despite the 2-19 to 0-12 whipping, the Armagh All-Ireland winning captain in 2002 decided to stay for his sixth year in charge and Kildare have clearly re-acted to McGeeney’s verdict.
They’re unbeaten in six games, five in the O’Byrne Cup, which they secured following an extra-time win in the final over Dublin, who put Cork to the sword in no uncertain manner last weekend.
And their opening 2-14 to 1-13 league win over All-Ireland champions Donegal at Croke Park on the same bill reflects Kildare’s encouraging beginning to the new season.
McGeeney will ensure his charges won’t lack motivation as they strive to set the record straight against the Rebels and remain top of the pile following their promotion as division two champions in 2012.
Kildare’s introduction of a couple of youngsters paid rich dividends last week as Niall Kelly, a minor last season, showed maturity beyond his years with an invaluable 0-3 contribution from play against one of the strongest defences in the country.
Daniel O’Flynn, another U21 player in the half-forward line, also caught the eye with intelligent distribution in particular while Paddy Brophy marked his introduction by scoring a vital late point.
Unsurprisingly, Kildare had the legs on the Sam Maguire Cup holders, who are obviously a bit behind the rest in terms of their physical preparation, and Croker’s wide open spaces suited the restless youngsters.
Tomorrow’s challenge will be different, because, first of all, they’ll be facing a Cork side still smarting from the 1-18 to 2-9 hammering by the Dubs and Kildare’s young tyros won’t enjoy the same freedom in the more confined venue.
Yet, it’s not all about the Lillywhites’ youngsters as veteran John Doyle showed by scoring 1-5 against Donegal, even if the goal was one from the lucky bag variety, net-minder Paul Durcan losing his bearings and control of the wet football to be suitably embarrassed.
The new midfield pairing of Gary White and Padraig O’Neill revelled in the exchanges while centre-back Michael Foley knows he won’t have to face a formidable Michael Murphy type opponent on this occasion.
Mikey Conway, centre-forward in the championship last year, diverted to wing-back, from where he roamed up field to slot three points from frees.
Cork announced their team last night, but, following last week’s experience, it’s best to advice of a health warning attached to the starting 15, because in all probability it won’t start that way.
And when you cast an eye over the selection it shows the same team that was picked to play against Dublin only for four changes to be made to the actual side which did line up.
So, on that basis it’s a matter of trying to decipher who’s likely to start based on the evidence supplied last week, especially from the newcomers, the two Tom Clancys, Damien Cahalane and John O’Rourke.
Injury ruled out Michael Shields, who is set to return, but whether Cahalane has recovered from his dead leg remains to be seen and this will have a bearing on the defensive make-up.
The management will be keen to give the U21s in the set-up another outing given they won’t be involved in the next two games after tomorrow, so Clonakilty’s Clancy and Cahalane, if fit, are poised to play, as is captain Graham Canty, a sub last week.
Will Andrew O’Sullivan get another chance at midfield alongside Aidan Walsh or will Alan O’Connor-Pearse O’Neill-Fintan Goold enter the equation?
O’Rourke did more than enough against Dublin, scoring 0-3 from play, and generally using the ball sensibly to deserve a second outing as did Ciaran Sheehan on CIT duty mid-week.
Irrespective of who wears jerseys one to 15, there’s a clear onus on Cork to improve dramatically from last week and protect an impressive home record over the past three seasons, when only Kerry and Mayo (in a dead rubber from Cork’s viewpoint) managed to win.
CORK: K O’Halloran (Bishopstown); E Cadogan (Douglas), M Shields (St Finbarr’s), J O’Sullivan (Bishopstown); P Kissane (Clyda Rovers), G Canty (Bantry Blues), D Cahalane (Castlehaven); A O’Connor (St Colum’s), A Walsh (Kanturk); F Goold (Macroom), P O’Neill (Aghada), C Sheehan (Eire Óg); C O’Neill (Ballyclough), D O’Connor (Ballydesmond), P Kerrigan (Nemo Rangers). Subs: D Lordan (Ballincollig), J McLoughlin (Kanturk), E O’Mahony (Macroom), N O’Leary (Cill na Martra), T Clancy (Clonakilty), D O’Sullivan (Ballinascarthy), T Clancy (Fermoy), A O’Sullivan (Castletownbere), J O’Rourke (Carbery Rangers), B O’Driscoll (Nemo Rangers), M Collins (Castlehaven).