Posted by Ewan MacKenna

2012 Meath Kildare 520x260

Ever since they started retreating to their personalised gym in the K Club a few years back and exiting ever bigger with each session, it's been the ready-made mud to sling at Kieran McGeeney.

He can create athletes to make Kildare compete, but he can't create footballers to make Kildare win. On Sunday, when they collide with a side considered even more physical, it'll be the grand test of that hypothesis, for the Leinster side won't be able to muscle their way onwards to an All Ireland semi-final just as they've muscled their way through the qualifiers year after year.

Up to this point, progress was based on the foundations of physique as lesser sides haven't and may never reach such a level of physical development thus Kildare could grind down the likes of Cavan and Offaly when defending and go both through them and around them with the ball in hand.

But what has made them so successful in the qualifiers has also been the great fault in their plan. Muscling their way through games only works up to a point and it's why in four All Ireland series games under McGeeney, they've only managed the one win.

And while their qualifier form has been consistent, so has that All Ireland series form, because it's in August they not only meet sides with size, but they meet sides with the skill to overcome size too. That has repeatedly been their downfall.

Just like in previous years, from now onwards any progress will have to be based on talent and more specifically the talent of their forwards. For it's that which is the greatest test of footballing ability and it's that which has let them down in the past.

Consider recent history. If the 2008 quarter-final against Cork should be forgotten because Kildare were a side in transition, then 2009 can be seen as the starting point for this group of forwards. Against Tyrone in that season's quarter-final, James Kavanagh, Pádraig O'Neill, Alan Smith, Eamonn Callaghan and John Doyle all started the game, yet from that point onwards, the statistics have been damning.

The idea the county lack forwards is only in-part true. In 2009 they were the second-highest scoring team in the country. In 2010, they went one better and topped the list in the one season they went beyond the quarter-final stage but it's the disparity in their scoring between pre-August and post-August that has been most striking.

Of course teams score less against better defences and score less when losing but compare Kildare's strike rate with the sides that won it all each year. In 2009, they averaged 19.6 points per game up to Tyrone (including goals) but only hit 14 against Tyrone, a fall off of 28 per cent. That season Kerry went from 14.4 points to 19 from province and qualifiers to All Ireland series, an increase of 32 per cent.

In the run-up to the All Ireland semi-final of 2010, Kildare hit 18.7 points per game, in the Down defeat that dropped to 17. It's not as pronounced but that's still a nine per cent fall off in a one-score game and that year Cork went from 16.7 points on the way to the last eight to 17.6 on the way to an All Ireland, an increase of over five per cent.

Even last year the trend continued. In 2011, Kildare went from 16.8 in the run up to the quarter-final to 0-11 in 70 minutes in that quarter-final against Donegal. The defensive nature of that particular opposition skews the figure slightly but it's still a game-losing drop off of 35 per cent in a match that went to extra-time. Dublin on their way to becoming champions went from 17.3 to 15 points a game in the All Ireland series, a drop off of just 13 per cent.

If individual games and individual years can be taken as too small a sample size, then look at the three-year pattern for this Kildare group. In All Ireland series games since 2009, Kildare's score has fallen by 17.3 per cent compared to their qualifier and Leinster efforts.

This is a side that have been considered unlucky because of the small defeats in each exit but in games where every score has mattered, they fell down. The All Ireland winners over those seasons have increased their tally by an average of eight per cent. Look at the difference between those two figures and it's easy to see why Kildare have disappeared after impressing so much.

And that's the great test for this year — their ability to match their scoring feats up to this point that has seen them kick over 17 points a game since the beginning of summer.

In Tomás O'Connor they've a different outlet and in Seánie Johnston they have a big-game player this time around but in previous defeats Smith and Kavanagh in particular have struggled for consistency and repeat form and this time around Doyle's role has been altered from scorer to work-horse.

They've tried different approaches to attacking over recent seasons but the result has been always the same and if McGeeney and his attackers can't break the cycle, the result will be the same this time as well.

If they can't find a way to shown brains as well as brawn and quality and well as quantity, then the year ends here, just as it has so may times before.

Read 'Off The Fence', as Paul Galvin continues to whittle away at his playing legacy