Front-running Kildare retain O’Byrne Cup
Jason Ryan’s team see off Meath for back-to-back O’Byrne Cup victories
Caolan Young of Meath tries to win possession from Kildare’s Eoghan O’Flatherty during the O’Byrne Cup final in Newbridge. photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
A perishing afternoon in Newbridge concluded with Kildare successfully defending the Bórd na Móna O’Byrne Cup for the county’s third win in four years.
They will hope for a more fulfilling year than what followed on from those other recent wins but new manager Jason Ryan was pleased with both the final victory and the tournament as a whole.
His Meath counterpart Mick O’Dowd wasn’t noticeably less satisfied despite the absence of the silverware and both counties will feel justifiably that they can face into the imminent league campaign with optimism.
It was a day when the pitch played soft – hardly surprisingly after consuming vast quantities of the recent rain – and the wind blew hard and piercingly. Consequently conditions weren’t ideal and mistakes followed.
By the end of it all Kildare’s fifth-minute goal, which was the first score of the afternoon, made up most of the four-point difference between the sides.
It was a nice piece of work. Kevin Murnaghan, a late call-up to start after David Hyland had cried off sick, Eoghan O’Flaherty and Paddy Brophy combined up the right and centrefielder Thomas Moolick arrived in support to take the final pass and shoot to the net.
From then on, Kildare led nearly all the way apart from a couple of minutes at the end of the first half, which ended when Darroch Mulhall kicked a free to send the home team in ahead at the break.
Meath can console themselves that they were competitive and rarely outside striking distance of the winners but despite a lively display from their full-forward unit in which Stephen Bray was the fulcrum – they couldn’t quite find the goal that you sensed they needed to turn around the match.
Some cautious point scoring, a clearance off the line by Kildare full back Michael Foley from Mickey Newman and a foul on the same player when he was shooting through – what looked a cast-iron black card for Gary White who was instead yellow carded by referee Fergal Kelly – all combined to leave the green flag by Kildare’s goal un-raised.
Unforced errors when in possession and some loose place kicking were features of both sides’ play with ball being handed back to opponents and miss-kicked but these weren’t easy conditions.
Kildare had the better of centrefield, particularly in the second half, and successfully deployed wing forwards Cathal McNally and Seán Hurley as auxiliaries for Moolick and White at various stages in the area. Meath manager Mick O’Dowd accepted that the team had been “well beaten” on their own kick-outs as the match wore on but the defence was hard working and patient when working the ball out of defence.
One positive in the sector was the re-appearance of Kevin Reilly in the first half although he switched to defence in the second half.
Up front Eamon Wallace used his pace to trouble Kildare and Bray opened up opportunities but, having briefly caught up with their opponents, Meath fell away once the second half started. Points from Paul Cribbin whose energetic counter attacks yielded two points for himself and Mulhall, who kicked two fine scores from distance, pushed the margin to a goal and the margin didn’t shrink thereafter.
Andrew Tormey was black carded for pulling down Cribbin after he had disposed of the ball. “It’s a good habit to get into – winning games,” said Ryan afterwards. “We gave away some sloppy ball at times which was disappointing. The goal gave us a bit of breathing space in the first half. We had an awful lot of possession but didn’t take as many chances as we should.
“Meath had a number of goal chances too which they didn’t take. The big thing for us is that we’re going into the Mayo game off a win, rather than losing today and having to dig ourselves out of a hole.
“I felt that both teams were a little apprehensive at the start and it wasn’t perfect. Both teams were making silly errors and mistakes, silly handling and balls being dropped and kicked away but we just felt as it went on that aspect improved. And as long as that keeps improving, we’ll be happy.
‘No new issues’
“We have no new issues or injuries. The unfortunate thing is the guys that had operations over the last while none of them are going to be available for the Mayo match but we just get on with it.”
Meath manager O’Dowd was equally upbeat a week before also facing Connacht opposition, Galway, in Division Two.
“It has been good preparation for the league. 1-10 is not a bad score-line to be conceding to a team like Kildare.
“You experiment in the month of January. We did that and while it’s good in terms of giving lots of players a chance, it’s hard to get a flow going from week to week. We’re disappointed to lose but we can rake positives out of the game too.
“We played 30 players in the O’Byrne Cup and two others played with the colleges – so 32 players got good experience, plenty of games so it’s all system go now for the league.”
KILDARE: M Donnellan; M O’Grady, M Foley, H McGrillen; K Murnaghan, E Bolton, P Cribbin (0-2); T Moolick (1-0), G White; S Hurley (0-1), E O’Flaherty (capt), C McNally (0-1); P Brophy (0-1), D Mulhall (0-4, two frees), P Fogarty (0-1). Subs: O Lyons for McGrillen (50 mins), J Gately for McNally (58 mins), F Dowling for Mulhall (68 mins), F Conway for O’Flaherty (72 mins).
MEATH: C McHugh; D Keogan, M Burke, C Young; P Gilsenan, E Harrington, D Dalton; C Gillespie (capt.), A Tormey; P McKeever, D McDonagh, D Larkin (0-1); E Wallace (0-2), S Bray (0-2), M Newman (0-4, three frees and 45). Subs: K Reilly for Gillespie (20 mins), G Reilly for McKeever (45 mins), D Carroll for McDonagh (45 mins), D Bray for Wallace (45 mins), S O’Rourke for Young (53 mins), K O’Sullivan for Tormey (60 mins, black card).
Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford)