Plucky Kildare continue on winning way
Kildare 2-14 Donegal 1-13:With an hour gone in Saturday night’s Allianz Football League curtain raiser, Kildare were up against it, as a Michael Murphy-inspired Donegal came flying at them.
Despite a significant fitness advantage against a team not long back from holiday and coming off four months celebrating a rare All-Ireland victory as well as missing in part or altogether the inputs of five All Stars and the incumbent Footballer of the Year, Kieran McGeeney’s side had – pretty literally – watched as their opponents strung together six unanswered points to cut a once yawning deficit to one.
Nonetheless it ended well for Kildare, as Donegal’s storm blew out and the lead was once again nudged out after 16 scoreless minutes. For McGeeney the match had delivered both a valuable outcome and areas in which to improve.
“Against Cork we felt that they were running through us for fun,” he said of the team’s previous visit to Croke Park for last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final mauling, “but there was 10 minutes out there when Donegal were doing the same.
“The game is in the context it’s in. Donegal are just back but they have that wee bit of panache that All-Ireland champions have and they’re a strong, running team. We were definitely up against it at times but we got on top and got the scores. It’s just good to get two points. Two points in this division is like gold dust. A good start for us.”
It’s been a good few weeks for Kildare. Not alone have they picked up the O’Byrne Cup with a dramatic win over Dublin and emerged from their first league match with victory over the All-Ireland champions but they have uncovered a handful of genuinely promising looking young players.
Man of the match
Niall Kelly, just a year after playing minor and winning a Hogan Cup medal, got the Setanta television man of the match award after a terrific evening of buzzing around, making himself available for the ball and kicking three points from play as well as using the ball constructively.
It was surprising that he and Daniel Flynn hadn’t been named on the team after good pre-season form but both started and another teenager Paddy Brophy, who came on and scored might also have been in contention had he not been involved in a Freshers match during the week.
“In fairness with those young fellas coming through,” said McGeeney, “the likes of Brian Murphy, Alan Barry with the under-21s and Noel Mooney have to take a lot of credit.”
Donegal manager Jim McGuinness won’t have helped sleep patterns elsewhere in the country by asserting afterwards that his team were operating at only 60 or 65 per cent of their championship fitness levels.
Murphy, who’s been sharp in the Sigerson Cup and in contrast to much of last year injury-free, unsurprisingly stood out in both halves.
He picked out Ross Wherity with a lovely ball in the fifth minute and pointed the free when a foul resulted. Six minutes later his solo run opened a chance for Paddy McBrearty, which was taken for a three-point lead.
Kildare picked up tempo after a slow start and hit the front with an 18th-minute goal after Michael Conway’s free came back off the post and Tomás O’Connor dived in to punch the opening goal.
For the rest of the half Kildare pulled away. There were some tremendous long-range scores from Johnny Doyle, restored to his most effective placing in the forwards after last year’s nomadic deployment and who was benefiting from the energetic support, Brian Flanagan and Pádraig O’Neill.
Donegal were missing Gallagher at centrefield and Paul Durcan’s kick-outs were annihilated with a return of just 25 per cent, prompting the goalkeeper to go short for much of the second half.
Mark McHugh came into the match just before the break and played well having spent much of the past four months rehabilitating from injury and despite the disparity in fitness Donegal found the energy to launch a spirited comeback.
Murphy led the way, switching between full forward and centre forward, and had three points from play, including a play familiar from September when he took down Anthony Thompson’s long ball and threatened a goal before flashing the ball over for a point.
He also punched a point about 15 metres out and another after riding tackles, soloing twice and accurately finishing.
The last 10 minutes were helter-skelter. Conway’s free stopped the Donegal revival and a minute later Doyle hoisted a high kick that looked like an attempt at a point. As it dropped Durcan looked distracted by O’Connor’s presence and was off his line and able only to paw the ball into the net.
That was that even though replacement Dermot Molloy finished some good work by Wherity and inevitably Murphy by punching to the net.
“I was disappointed on one level because we built up a good head of steam in the second half particularly,” was McGuinness’s reaction. “In the first half we weren’t our normal selves and we weren’t at our normal intensity levels. That’s fairly understandable considering we were probably four or five weeks behind Kildare in terms of our preparation in terms of the league.”