Resurgent Royals roll back the years
LEINSTER SFC SEMI-FINAL: Meath 1-17 Kildare 1-11A CLASSIC ambush at Croke Park yesterday, as hot favourites Kildare firstly couldn’t shake off Meath and then couldn’t catch them. Any number of Meath football realists – and who else in that county follows the game? – professed afterwards that they hadn’t seen this coming. Whatever about them, Kildare certainly didn’t, either – nor anyone else, not looking to be considered wise after the event.
Meath came in understrength by anything up to six players having huffed and puffed to get past Carlow. They’d lost their previous three championship matches to Kildare, who had steamrolled Offaly in the last round, apparently moving inexorably towards the presumed Leinster final against Dublin.
Maybe you need to temper the impact of the absentee list by factoring in some stunning performances by the Meath youngsters.
Conor Gillespie soared, cleaning up under aerial ball and taking Kildare’s new-fangled tactical complexities into a time machine and showing how Meath centrefielders down the generations have dealt with the demands of the position. He even managed to be on hand in injury-time to block Emmet Bolton, as Kildare desperately chased what was long by then a lost cause.
On the half-forward line in front of him, Damien Carroll, the young Ballinabrackey centre forward, ran all day gathering possession and using it constructively. On the left wing Alan Forde’s pace and mobility also created havoc at various stages.
Kildare by comparison moved the ball too slowly and needed the input of too many hands to open up opportunities and when they did create such openings, the old failings in front of goal haunted them once more.
They appeared to be coping with the spirited resistance from Meath and left themselves in a good position to strike for the finish line before the sending-off of centrefielder Daryl Flynn appeared to unhinge them and provide their opponents with a source of oxygen.
But none of these calamities were apparent in the early stages when James Kavanagh and Bolton, breaking from centrefield, put Kildare two up whereas during the same period Meath shot three wides.
As the crowd waited for the floodgates to open, Meath kept plugging away and gradually got back into the game. By pushing up the wings they exposed Kildare for pace and created scores. Joe Sheridan provided a target and was instrumental as Meath drew level, laying off a ball for Carroll and scoring the other himself.
Suitably emboldened, Meath hit the front and coped with Kildare’s more laboured attacks. When the favourites tried to go long to bring Tomás O’Connor’s ball winning into play they found stand-in full back Bryan Menton imperturbable under the high ball and although O’Connor played his part in a couple of scores he was unable to establish a constant reign of terror.
John Doyle struggled for mobility and was unable to take charge for Kildare. He was eventually replaced in the 50th minute.
Meath led by a point at half-time – it was nearly more and referee Michael Collins had reason to be grateful that Cian Ward’s shot dropped short as he blew the whistle as the kick was being taken.