BEN McCormack is the one new face in a youthful looking Kildare side named by Cian O’Neill for Sunday’s opening Allianz National Football League Division 2 game against Meath in Pairc Tailteann.
The corner forward linked up with the senior squad before Christmas after a successful 2016 with the county under 21 side and helping his club Sarsfields to retain their senior title. He started all four games for Kildare in the O’Byrne Cup this year, scoring 0-10 in the process, and last week had a very impressive half hour against Tipperary in the Under 21 Peter McNulty Shield Final.
Although this will be McCormack’s senior competitive debut, he does have an excellent performance in a Kildare jersey at the Navan venue already in his locker. In last year’s Leinster Under 21 final he scored five points from play in the defeat to Dublin.
Still only 20, McCormack is the youngest player in the starting 15 and only three players named are aged over 25, Ollie Lyons, Keith Cribbin and Eoin Doyle. At 30 years of age, Lyons, one of two changes from the team that lost to Dublin in the O’Byrne Cup semi-final, is by far the most experienced player in the team.
He is the only player to start more than 20 league games and his total of 63 appearances in a senior Kildare jersey is almost twice that of any other starter.
With an average age of 24, it’s pretty obvious that Cian O’Neill has one eye on the future but equally, he is well aware of the importance of consolidating Kildare’s place in Division 2.
“I think for any team who moves up a division the key thing is to maintain your position in that division, because it is a huge step up. The last time Kildare were in Division 2 they got relegated. Now we are back up there the key thing is to maintain that position. And to push on, we are going to be competitive in every match, we’ll take every match as it comes and we are gunning to be in the top two at the end of the league but the rational position is to maintain that position and then to build from there,” added the manager, as he heads into his second league campaign in charge of Kildare.
Last season Kildare were the big dogs of Division 3 and were seen as favourites for most of their games, O’Neill is well aware that will be different in Division 2 but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the games will be more open as a result.
“Division 3 was a slog last year. We played very open football because I wanted the lads to get plenty and express themselves when we were learning so much about them. Division 2 will be very different but knowing the opposition very well from over the last few years, it will still be very defensive. There will just be a greater speed of transition this year than perhaps we faced last year. After last week’s performance, which was disappointing in all respects but also blown out of all proportion at the same time considering it was a game in January, nobody will be fearing us but that doesn’t concern us. All we can focus on is ourselves and what happens on the training pitch and what happens within the four walls of the dressing room. We’ll take one match at a time, championship intensity, championship intensity, and we’ll see where that takes us,” he said.
On Sunday, Kildare come up against Meath side who have used the O’Byrne Cup as a chance for new manager Andy McEntee to see as many players as possible. No matter who fills the positions for the Royal County, O’Neill is expecting a tough challenge.
“I don’t think Meath will be losing any of the key traits that have always been associated with Meath teams. They will be big, physical, aggressive. I was at their match against Laois two weeks ago in Stradbally. It was a close contest. They have injected a bit of pace into the team which is interesting and we will have to look out for that. They are a Division 2 or Division 1 team, they’ve been up and down, it’s up to us to make sure that we make an immediate impact so that we are no chasing the game. I’ve every belief that if we perform like we know we can, which we didn’t do in our last game against Dublin hence the result, that we will be competitive in every game,” said O’Neill.
|Kildare team for Allianz National Football League Division 2 game versus Meath|
|League appearances (Sub appearances in brackets)||League Debut||Age||League scores|
|1||Mark Donnellan||17||16/3/13 v Mayo||24||0-1 (1’45)|
|2||Mick O’Grady||14||2/2/14 v Mayo||25||0-2|
|3||David Hyland||9(10)||16/3/13 v Mayo||22||0-1|
|4||Ollie Lyons||31(4)||13/3/11 v Laois||30||0-3|
|5||Johnny Byrne||3(5)||31/1/16 v Westmeath||24||0-2|
|6||Eoin Doyle||11(4)||8/4/12 v Galway||26||1-0|
|7||Keith Cribbin||17(5)||13/4/08 v Laois||27||2-6|
|8||Kevin Feely||7||6/2/16 v Offaly||24||0-3|
|9||Tommy Moolick||13(7)||4/2/12 v Tyrone||24||2-9|
|10||Fergal Conway||17(4)||2/2/14 v Mayo||23||0-2|
|11||Niall Kelly||15(4)||2/2/13 v Donegal||23||4-33(2fs)|
|12||Paul Cribbin||18(1)||24/3/13 v Tyrone||24||1-31|
|13||Neil Flynn||3||31/1/16 v Westmeath||21||1-10 (9fs)|
|14||Daniel Flynn||11(3)||2/2/13 v Donegal||23||4-8|