Five months after Kildare were blown away by a second-half Meath demolition job in Croke Park, Kildare Senior Footballers have their next championship challenge in their sights. The draw took place on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, with Leinster GAA chairman Pat Teehan pitting Kildare in the quarter-final against the winner of John Maughan's Offaly and Mickey Harte's Louth.
The other fixtures announced this morning include 10-in-a-row champions Dublin to face the winner of the local derby between Wicklow and Wexford. Dublin will be forced to play this game outside of Croke Park as a punishment for their recent Covid-19 breach. Elsewhere, Meath will face the winner of Carlow and Longford, and Division 2 rivals Laois and Westmeath round off the group of fixtures.
The championship this year will once again take on a straight knockout format for all teams. This only heightens the sense of a mission impossible for Leinster teams as they ultimately battle against each other for a day of execution against the Dubs. Last year the knockout format made sense as the season was squashed into the final months of the year with teams no longer having the cushion of an All-Ireland qualifier to fall back on. This year the championship begins in June and ends in August which would leave plenty of time for the extra games that an All-Ireland qualifier series would bring. Surely the fans and players deserve as much action as possible considering the uncertainty and frustration of the past fourteen months?
Much of this is based on the rapid-fire league format that will begin 15-16 May with the finals five weeks later. Kildare once again find themselves in Division 2 and will look to push for promotion to Division 1 this year but also be wary to avoid relegation at all costs as the possibility of a second-tier championship looms in 2022.
With the championship season starting in June and continuing through until the All-Ireland Football Final on the last weekend in August, that will mean a 20-week inter-county season before Castledermot can begin their club action on the first weekend of September.
The knockout championship definitely brings a sense of excitement to all games as big teams can fall early with Kerry finding the back door firmly closed in 2020 when they fell to Cork with a dramatic last-minute goal. Great for Cork, disappointing for neutrals who would have seen Kerry as the only realistic challengers to Dublin last season. The sense of deflation that comes with an early-round knockout is all too familiar to Kildare fans. After our fantastic run to the All-Ireland final in 1998, the whole county once again made our way up the old dual-carriageway to Croke Park in 1999 to face Offaly in an opening-round game. Offaly shocked Kildare with an 0-11 to 0-07 win and that was that for Kildare fans that season. Shellshocked, we made our way home asking each other "Now what?".
Fingers crossed that Jack O'Connor can get the best out of this Kildare team this season and we have as long of a summer as we can get before we can enjoy Castledermot and Grange in the championship in September!