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Peter Canavan: Just which Kildare will turn up to lock horns with Tyrone?

Get in: Kildare’s David Hyland celebrates with his mother Maire after defeating Mayo last year
Get in: Kildare’s David Hyland celebrates with his mother Maire after defeating Mayo last year

By Peter Canavan

When their backs were to the wall last year, Kildare produced one of their best performances in years.

The 'Newbridge or Nowhere' campaign focused minds and energy and resulted in a big win over Mayo, one of the top teams on the island. It served as a reminder of what Kildare can achieve if they can pull all the strands together.

However, while on a given day they can swim with the sharks, they haven't quite shaken the idea that they can also drown in the shallow end. Expectation weighs heavily on them and that emboldens lesser teams, who regularly give them their fill of it.

Carlow tumbled them last year in a major shock. There was more of the same this year. They only scraped by Wicklow in Leinster before needing two bites at the cherry against Longford. There's the feeling that they are brittle and that if you put enough pressure on them they will crack.

And that's why the draw against Tyrone was a good one for them. Another big win against one of the top sides would show a level of consistency. Kildare don't handle expectation well but they do like the idea of taking a scalp as underdogs.

And while there is no drama around the venue this time that Cian O'Neill can use to galvanise his side, there are nonetheless echoes of last year about this tie.

As was the case in 2018, the previous season's beaten All-Ireland finalists are coming to their own back yard. If Kildare can summon some of the fury they played with 12 months ago, they'll be in a good spot.

There's no doubting their talent. Some of their players were good enough to have been courted by other codes while their conditioning looks to be on a par with the top teams.

Losing Daniel Flynn was a hammer blow given how central he was to their plans last year but Adam Tyrrell has stepped up to the plate. In their five Championship games, he has hit 1-26, including three from play against a Dublin side that were utterly dominant in their Leinster semi-final. To his credit, he kept carrying the fight to the Dubs.

Ben McCormack also seems to be getting the injury-free run he badly needed. Neil Flynn can score too, while Jimmy Hyland is an exciting talent they can use off the bench.

The strength of this Kildare team undoubtedly lies in their forwards. You wouldn't think that going on the 0-11 they managed against the Dubs, but they left about 3-7 behind them that day. On another day those would have gone in. If those boys get enough ball, they can do damage.

Around the middle Fergal Conway, Kevin Feely and Tommy Moolick can hold their own with anyone but it's in defence where they need to improve.

Longford should have put them out of the Leinster Championship the first day when Kildare conceded three goals. Dublin took them for 26 points but it wasn't for a lack of effort or players not tracking runs. For a lot of those scores against Dublin, Kildare had 10 and 11 players back but they weren't effective.

It is a marked contrast to when Donegal get bodies back. They create a two-on-one situation, bottle up the man on the ball and make him over-carry but Kildare were having difficulty working together.

They'd get the bodies back alright but you could have thrown a blanket over maybe half a dozen of them which meant there were big pockets of space for Dublin to exploit. And there is no one better in the business at doing that.

Against Tyrone, they'll face a team who will look to both run and kick the ball. There were signs of that against Longford. Tyrone started off defensively and looked like they had reverted to type but as the game wore on, the early ball to Cathal McShane started to pay off.

Management were criticised for the way they set up against Donegal but I'm glad they didn't throw the baby out with the bath water. Mixing both styles is the way forward for them.

Mickey Harte could be without Paudie Hampsey and Richie Donnelly, and they would be big losses, but I expect both teams to come out all guns blazing with the Red Hands to edge a tight game.

Tomorrow evening the focus will switch quickly from Newbridge to Castlebar where Kieran McGeeney takes his team to MacHale Park.

I'd be surprised if Armagh don't go for it against Mayo. Their preferred style is to press high up the pitch. It means they leave the back door open sometimes but it also sees them play to their strengths because they have some class forwards.

Andy Murnin is a good ball winner in the full-forward line. Rian O'Neill is a threat too, while Jamie Clarke is playing some great football.

McGeeney will have noticed that Mayo don't have the tallest defenders in the full-back line. Donal O'Hare outfielded Keith Higgins in Newry and would have got a goal but for a great piece of goalkeeping by David Clarke. I'd be surprised if we don't see Armagh test that full-back line early on.

In Jarly Óg Burns they have one of the best midfielders in the game this year so there is a buzz again about Armagh and they will have support.

If they play to their full potential and if Mayo forget their shooting boots then Armagh can produce an upset and give McGeeney his biggest win as manager of the county to date.

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