PERHAPS not surprisingly, Kildare manager Cian O’Neill has opted not to change the starting 15 that defeated Meath in such comprehensive style for the visit of Cork to St Conleths Park on Sunday.
With Emmet Bolton and Fionn Dowling still missing through injury, the only big call for O’Neill was whether to bring the fit again Peter Kelly back into the team but he has elected to play Mick O’Grady, David Hyland and Ollie Lyons in the full back line once again.
They will play in front of an increasingly confident goalkeeper in Mark Donnellan. The big Maynooth man is yet to concede a goal in 2017 but that hasn’t been for the lack of work. He was one of the few Kildare players to emerge with real credit from the last game at St Conleths Park, in the O’Byrne Cup semi-final against Dublin, and in the midst of a ten point win over Meath in Navan it’s easy to forget just how crucial Donnellan’s save from Cillian O’Sullivan in first half injury time was.
Further out the field, Kevin Feely was one of the stars of the win in Navan with a number of spectacular examples of high fielding around the centre of the field. He knows that Kildare will have to up their performance again on Sunday.
“They got a good result against Galway last week, who would be hot enough favourites to win Division 2. I think it was only a matter of time before Cork came good, the talent that they have at their disposal, they have a lot to offer. There will be huge focus going into that game because it’s a game we’d be really targeting. A game at home in Conleths trying to make that a fortress, so I’m really looking forward to it,” said Feely, who played in the DCU side beaten in the Sigerson Cup this week.
Feely’s Athy club mate Niall Kelly will be looking to build on a superb opening round of the league. He scored 2-2 against Meath and always good memories of the last clash between Kildare and Cork, he scored 1-4 when the Lilywhites beat Cork by eight points in the 2015 Qualifiers.
This is the first year that Kelly hasn’t been tied up by college or under 21 commitments and the benefits from a full pre-season, free of injury, is there for all to see. Kelly is not the only in that boat. It’s a long time since Paul Cribbin, Eoin Doyle, Daniel Flynn, Keith Cribbin, and more, have been able to do so much training over the winter months.
20 year old Ben McCormack keeps his place at corner forward and will make his home league debut following such a stunning start last week when he scored a goal after just 14 seconds.
In order to continue the winning start to the season, Kildare will need to improve on their recent form at home. They won three and lost one of their four home games at St Conleths Park in Division 3 last season but lost all three home games when relegated from Division 2 in 2015.
That home form was the major factor in dropping down to the third level of league football but if Kildare can get a win on Sunday they have gone a long way to ensuring they won’t get dragged into a relegation battle this year.
Kildare line up: Mark Donnellan (Maynooth); Mick O’Grady (Celbridge), David Hyland (Athy), Ollie Lyons (Celbridge), Johnny Byrne (Allenwood), Eoin Doyle (Naas), Keith Cribbin (Johnstownbridge); Tommy Moolick (Leixlip), Kevin Feely (Athy); Fergal Conway (Celbridge), Niall Kelly (Athy), Paul Cribbin (Johnstownbridge), Neil Flynn (Maynooth), Daniel Flynn (Johnstownbridge), Ben McCormack (Sarsfields).