Johnston gets Kildare over the line
Kildare 1-12 Offaly 1-9:January occasionally throws up games like this – a perfect early season appetiser, two teams physically and intentionally matched, alarmingly competitive until to the end, complete with fetching headline act.
Because if Kildare truly did value making the O’Byrne Cup final – facing Dublin in Parnell Park, next Saturday evening – the first man to thank is Seánie Johnston, who repeatedly set O’Connor Park alight.
Johnston, lest anyone forget, spent almost all of last season trying to convince people he was no longer wanted as a Cavan footballer, and as a full-time Kildare resident, wanted nothing more than to wear their white jersey. Here, starting his first full game for Kildare, Johnston showed exactly what the fuss was all about.
His seven points – four from frees – proved the platform for Kildare’s victory, despite playing out with 14 men after Mikey Conway’s double-yellow, and watching Offaly’s Niall McNamee send wide a late penalty that might have forced extra-time.
Johnston was keenly supported by the men around him, although it’s hard to imagine them winning without him.
Offaly, brilliantly reinvigorated under new manager Emmet McDonnell, probably left victory behind, dominating at times and physically giving even Kildare a couple of lessons. McNamee’s late miss wasn’t the problem, his second skewed penalty of recent weeks: they just couldn’t quite keep tabs on Johnston same as they did almost every other Kildare player.
All this, perhaps, now affords Johnston to look forward, rather than back, and he admitted the last 12 months hadn’t been easy, and maybe now the talk will only be about his football: “It was hard, the fact I wasn’t taking about it, and everyone else seemed to be talking about it,” he said.
He is now, he feels too, nothing more or less than another Kildare player: “It’s not really hard to integrate with those lads, they are not just good footballers, they are good people very welcoming very friendly.
“It’s not that hard to integrate when they make you feel welcome and I have to thank them. It’s only early, last year was a washout. Hopefully I get a good run at it this year, and we’ll see how we go.”
Johnston is sure to get a run alright, continuing with next Saturday’s final, but Kildare will want a more consistent 70 minutes too: they trailed for most of the first half, Eoin Carroll’s early goal announcing Offaly’s intentions, while Anton Sullivan and both Niall and Alan McNamee ensured the home team looked the more competitive.
Yet it was Johnston again, only back from injury too, in stepping up a gear in the second half, who sparked Kildare’s competitiveness, and while Conway’s dismissal on 50 minutes (he’d neatly struck the first-half penalty which brought Kildare back into it) looked fatal, Offaly couldn’t quite make it all count.