Floodlit double-bill heralds start of new season at Croke Park
By Damian Lawlor
The first game of the 2018 season sees the Dublin and Kildare footballers headlining this intriguing Croke Park double-bill, which also features Pat Gilroy’s new-look Dublin hurlers.
Gilroy’s side make their 2018 Allianz Hurling League bow against Offaly under the floodlights lights at 5pm. Meanwhile Jim Gavin’s dominant Dubs will tackle Kildare in the Allianz Football League opener at 7pm in a local derby that is sure to attract a huge crowd.
Kildare boss Cian O’Neill knows his men have it all to do. In four of their last five defeats against Dublin - two Allianz League (2013 and 2014), two Championship (2013 and 2015) - the margin has stretched to double figures. O’Neill wants to stop the rot this weekend. He says: “It’s not ideal when you have one team so dominant, but it’s up to everybody else to bridge that gap.”
But the Jim Gavin era has been relentlessly one-way traffic and with emerging talent like Brian Howard and Colly Basquel impressing in pre-season games, Dublin want to maintain their progression on a trajectory to win four All-Irelands in-a-row. That bid restarts in earnest in Croke Park on Saturday.
This year there is also much for Dublin hurling supporters to be positive about. 2013 Leinster Championship winner Liam Rushe has rejoined the panel after injury, and former All-Star Danny Sutcliffe, Conal Keaney, Joey Boland and Johnny McCaffrey have all returned in recent weeks.
Manager Pat Gilroy has worked his team especially hard in pre-season training and will be keen to see if they can dismantle Kevin Martin’s Offaly.
It’s a big night for Martin, who made 74 appearances for Offaly and won two All-Stars. The main priority for the current team will be staying in Division 1B.
“We’re after getting a few thrashings over the last couple of years — and especially last year just gone,” Martin says. “It’s all about confidence so you’ve to build their confidence up and get them going again. Mentally, that’s half the battle. So, we’ll have to work on that big time.”
It all starts again this weekend under lights. Where else would you want to be?
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