One of the results that stood out from the weekend's GAA results was Kildare's six-point victory over Cork. Following on from their first-round victory over Meath by ten points, it has been a fine start to the season for Cian O'Neill's side. With only three players 25 years of age or over included on the starting team for both games - and that fifteen including seven members of the side who won the Leinster U21 championship in 2013 - there appears to be a promising young crop of players coming through for the Lilywhites. Especially when you throw in two Leinster minor titles in 2013 and 2015.
Ger McNally is Sports Editor of the Kildare Nationalist and he sees room for optimism for the young Kildare side, for whom things are coming together this year. Factors that might have curbed certain players' seasons in previous campaigns are smoothing themselves out.
It's a young team, and developing very well. The bulk of those players are only 23, 24 so they would have been on a good minor and U21 side and they're starting to make their mark now at senior level. Paul Cribbin would have been away in Australia for two years. Kevin Feely would have been playing soccer in England for a couple of years - he was playing in the League of Ireland as well - (and) they're concentrating fully on GAA and getting the benefits of it.
Niall Kelly, Eoin Doyle, Cribbin as well would have had a lot of injuries over the last couple of years and wouldn't have trained a lot during pre-season and were going into the season carrying injuries, but they're all injury free this year and again they're having huge benefit from that. Niall Kelly as well would have been playing college football, U21 football as well, different things whereas this year he's focussed on one team. He's been playing very well.
Kelly is a name that has been on Kildare lips for a long time. He made his debut as a teenager and was a huge part of UCD's victorious Sigerson Cup side last year. He got 2-2 in that opening victory over Meath and was scoreless against Cork a week later, held by the shackles of Cork's best man-marker James Loughrey. But McNally was as impressed by Kelly's footballing intelligence against the Rebels as he was a week before.
Against Meath he scored 2-2 and was obviously very good, but in an understated way I thought he was very good against Cork. Cork had obviously done their homework on him and from the very first ball Loughrey was on top of him. But Niall still got on plenty of ball and he was still able to kind of pull Loughrey out to centre-back position and create space.
Kildare got a goal chance which was pushed over the bar (and) they had a goal disallowed. A lot of that was because of Niall's clever running, pulling Loughrey out of the centre and creating that space for other people to come through. He didn't score and maybe didn't have as eye-catching a performance as the previous week against Meath, but he's a very intelligent footballer.
Perhaps all Kildare fans need in order to sober themselves up is the memory of being beaten by a third-string Dublin team in the O'Byrne Cup. Especially since the only changes between that side and the team that has started against Meath and Cork were the swapping of Ollie Lyons and Tommy Moolick for Mark Hyland and Fionn Dowling. McNally cautions against reading too much into that defeat, however.
The second half there were a lot of changes made, I think nine substitutions (there were eight) that were guys coming back on for Kildare as well so it got very scrappy in the second half. Dublin only went ahead in injury time or the last minute of normal time, so it wasn't as if Dublin hammered them or anything like that. I think it was just that the game lost a bit of shape in the second half. But from the very first minute against Meath they had a much better tempo about them. They were moving the ball much quicker, much sharper, finding the forwards much quicker as well and just every facet of the game was far, far better.
So then, cause for optimism? August football for the Lilywhites? McNally warns against anyone getting carried away, but with that comes cautious optimism:
With a young side, you're going to get inconsistencies. They're away to Derry in the next trip and they could just as easily go out and lose that game - then you lose a game after that, you could easily get dragged into a relegation battle. No one in Kildare gets too dragged away, there's been enough false dawns and false hopes!
But it's not just the last two games, a lot of these guys have been well known around Kildare for a long time for their underage exploits and getting them to the senior jersey is what people have been waiting for for the last couple of years.