Sligo will target O’Connor
Sligo’s defensive plan for this game is no secret. Against Mayo and Galway, the Connacht finalists showed they can dictate the game away from their opponent’s primary point of attack. The Galway game is particularly relevant for this match as the Yeats county succeeded in removing the aerial threat of Paul Conroy, despite the full-forwards success in winning frees. Kildare’s high ball threat is Tomás O’Connor, a smarter operator inside but still a man who Meath kept quiet for the first half-hour of the Leinster semi-final. Sligo’s defence is built around a patient passing game at the back that draws opponents out of position before breaking forward. Whatever impact Sligo’s defence has on O’Connor, Kildare can’t allow their forwards to be taken for a walk in Hyde Park. Even with Seanie Johnston now on the panel, Kildare’s attack isn’t suited to working off the cuff. Shape and discipline allow the Lilywhites to turn their physical prowess into scores.
Kildare’s sudden organisational concerns
Three weeks ago there was no reason to worry about Kildare’s system. Previewing their clash with Meath, I raved about how the Lilywhites have gradually developed into a formidable machine. Indeed their display against Tyrone in the Division 2 Final showed that in defence they looked a match for near any side on the island and had the power game to make up for their attacking deficiencies. Then came that disaster against Meath and an extra-time win over Limerick. In both encounters Kildare came up against organised but hardly elite opposition. Clever but not overly nuanced defence gave Meath a significant upper hand while Limerick were able to shut down the Kildare attack until McGeeney’s charges overwhelmed them in extra time. Against a creative defence like Sligo, Kildare need to have the machine in tune. This is a unit it that evolved from a basic sweeper system five years ago into a full swarm defence capable of dominating territory and push the game into opposition territory. That means accurate and patient passing, wearing out their opponents to create advantageous shooting positions.
Sligo’s attack difficult to predict
The one element of this game that can swing the outcome more than any other is the effectiveness of Sligo’s attack. Against Mayo the Yeats county struggled to create chances. For the most part they were efficient although Adrian Marren, who ran the show against Galway, made some terrible decisions in the Connacht Final. Marren’s partnership with David Kelly in attack depends in large part on Sligo’s ability to break from the back. When Kevin Walsh’s charges dictate play entering opposition territory they create chances. Sligo managed 16 scores against Galway but only had 15 opportunities to do so against Mayo. Quality ball was the difference in those games. That point of supply will be where the battle will be won and lost in the Hyde.
Inconsistency is at the heart of the debate entering this game. Unsurprisingly for a pairing in Round 4, both teams have their strengths but enough flaws to be considered unreliable. The one constant in the summer has been Sligo’s cohesion at the back. Even in defeat to Mayo, Sligo’s defence remained formidable. On Saturday this unit will need to break out and create chances for their attack. Kildare by contrast will need to play the kind of territorial game that gradually ground Tyrone into submission. It’s hard to see them as value for their 4 point favourites tag but it’s understandable why Kildare are seen as having an edge. That said, I’m going with the one element I feel can be trusted to swing the day. Sligo’s defence is built to give Kildare nightmares, I’m picking an upset in the Hyde.
We welcome and encourage all comments.
Follow Emmet Ryan on Twitter.
Programming note: The next column will be Saturday and will assess the Meath vs. Laois qualifier. Once the draw for the Quarter Finals is made, we’ll announce the updated schedule of previews and reviews.