Kildare made to hang at the end but get deserved under-21 win over Longford
Senior experience helps Lilywhites claim first Leinster title since 2008
Kildare’s Paddy Brophy scores a penalty against Longford in O’Moore Park. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Kildare 1-12 Longford 0-12
Kildare were edgy in the final quarter but in the end, they emerged deserving victors over a very game Longford to claim a first Leinster under-21 football title since 2008.
It says lot for the impression the Lilywhites had created that Longford were heavy underdogs for this encounter despite having accounted for Dublin in the opening round.
That probably served as huge motivation for Eugene McCormack’s side and despite falling behind by four points early on and conceding a goal 22 seconds into the second half that saw them go seven down, they showed plenty of endeavour to leave their vaunted opponents hanging on at the end.
Hang on they did though and despite the magnificence of Mark Hughes and Pádraig McCormack in particular for Longford, no-one could argue that the result wasn’t the right one.
The first half got off to a lightening start for Kildare, whose physical presence was evident in the contests for possession, and especially around midfield.
Unsurprisingly, it was the men with the senior experience that were doing the damage. Seán Hurley alone caught six balls cleanly around midfield, while inside, Pádraig Fogarty, Fionn Dowling and Paddy Brophy looked very sharp
Kieran McGeeney’s crew raced into a four-point lead after nine minutes, with Hurley, Dowling and Fogarty being joined on the scoresheet by another senior, Niall Kelly.
Longford had their own danger-men though in Hughes and Robbie Smyth. The duo had steadied the ship with a couple of frees before Hughes kicked their first score from play in the 23rd minute.
That reduced the margin to three points but Kelly and Brophy quickly stretched it to five before Hughes showed an electric burst of speed to round Paul Cribbin and curl over on the run, leaving it 0-9 to 0-5 at the interval.
It was looking good for Kildare at that stage and the forecast was even better when another quick hand-passing move led to the brilliant Hurley being hauled down straight from the throw-in.
Brian O’Shea had no hesitation in awarding a penalty and Brophy sent Collum the wrong way from the spot. At that juncture, you suspected that Kildare might just pull away for a comfortable win.
That wasn’t how it materialised though, as Longford started breaking the ball around midfield and thrived on the breaks.
Hughes, Darren Gallagher and Smyth gradually chipped away but when Thomas Moolick drilled one over from 40 metres in the 42nd minute, the gap was still seven.
The belief continued to grow within Longford though, as Kildare withdrew into their shell somewhat. Barry McKeon (free), Gallagher, David Mimnagh and James McGivney raised white flags
One of the game’s key passages of play arrived eight minutes from time, when Hughes rounded Kildare goalie, Mark Donnellan and had the goal gaping. As he shot, Cribbin came from nowhere to get a block in.
Who knows what would have happened had the former AFL man not made that vital intervention.
Kildare might have made it easier on themselves had they not kicked some poor wides late on, but with Fergal Conway inspirational at centre-back, they held Longford at bay through five minutes of injury time to claim the honours.