Kildare 3-20 Fermanagh 0-18
Derry, Longford, Mayo and now Fermanagh have all discovered in recent weeks that Kildare football is in rude health, the latest instalment of their progress through the qualifiers to the Super 8s, offering perhaps their most rounded performance.
Kildare manager Cian O’Neill believed so and with reasonable justification.
"I think that's the best we played this year by a long shot. Defensively we were sound; we knew they had some dangerous players inside. Mark Donnellan on our kick-out strategy was really on point and he had an outstanding game as a quarterback. Some of our forward play was excellent."
Their reward is a place in the Super 8s alongside Kerry, Galway and Monaghan. O’Neill said: “It’s fantastic because you couldn’t have seen it seven, eight weeks ago. That’s probably the biggest plus about the whole thing. At the start of the year, if we’re being quietly honest we would have seen the Super 8s as an objective.
“We would have seen a Leinster final as an objective. So when you lose one, the worry then is the wheels fall off your season altogether. So to be able to regroup like the players did and get their heads back into this competition, which is the qualifiers, was fantastic.”
The physical remnants of the exertions in the win over Mayo and perhaps a legacy from the route through the qualifiers were not to be found in a sluggish start in Navan but a lacklustre final quarter. Kildare ran out of energy with substitute Chris Healy’s stoppage time goal providing a gloss to what had been a matt finish to the match.
Not that the Kildare supporters would quibble with the calibre of the performance, certainly for the first three quarters of the game. Kildare's movement and athleticism, the patience with which they worked their opportunities, the timing of runs from deep, particularly captain, Eoin Doyle and Kevin Flynn – he kicked a brace of points – caused Fermanagh deep discomfort and yielded an avalanche of scores.
O’Neill’s side also used the full expanse of the pitch to prise apart Fermanagh’s packed ranks in defence, creating corridors of space into which a white-clad player would surge or cleverly isolating defenders in physical mismatches. If the team dynamic and patterns were exemplary then there was much to admire in individual performances too.
Neil Flynn scored 1-5, his goal in the second half involving Fergal Conway, Tommy Moolick and Doyle, a classic illustration of the fluency and precision with which Kildare can strike.
Daniel Flynn’s goal was more of a solo effort, once Conway’s long, high ball, dropped out of the sky on the edge of the Fermanagh square. The Kildare full forward won the aerial duel, shrugged off one defender, sidestepped another and finished clinically. He was lethal in possession.
Kildare produced some picture-perfect football, evident in the care with which they probed for a weakness and that ability to suddenly accelerate when they sniffed an opportunity. All six of the starting forward line scored from play, while Chris Healy (1-2) took his opportunity when introduced as a substitute.
There are one or two cavils. Fermanagh dedicated numbers to the defence in the first half but rarely got tight enough in the individual contests and lacked that bristling aggression and intensity in the tackle; indeed that criticism could be ascribed to both sides and reveals to a degree why it was such a high-scoring game.
The beaten Ulster finalists also spurned too many scoring chances in the first half either through wayward shooting or dropping the ball into the hands of Kildare goalkeeper Mark Donnellan. That turnover in possession would prove costly.
Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher was honest and accurate in his post match appraisal.
“Despite defending horrifically in the first half, we had enough of the ball and enough chances to have nine, 10, 11 points on the board.
“That’s the disappointing thing. Kildare were very clinical but a lot of that is down to the poor level of our intensity, the poor level of tackling and work rate that we put in, in the first half. We upped it considerably in the second half, albeit it was always going to be a massive challenge. But look, our conversion rate was very, very poor, particularly in the first half.”
Fermanagh scored 13 points after the break, a rally that demonstrated character, but mitigated by a Kildare team that for the last 20 minutes freewheeled to the final whistle. Gallagher spoke afterwards about the goals this season, promotion to the National League Division 2 and also winning an Ulster Championship match over someone other than Antrim, who lie below them in the rankings; they accomplished both targets.
He acknowledged there is still quite a journey to the level playing field they crave amongst elite teams.
“We found out there is a big gap in everything we’re doing, between ourselves and Donegal and ourselves and Kildare. There’s a huge amount. That Kildare team [has been] moulded for a number of years. Physically they’re very well developed. Skill-wise, they’re very, very good. I think tactically, they’re strong as well; likewise with Donegal.”
Kildare head for the Super 8s with a spring in their step, the disappointment of the league campaign and the defeat to Carlow, replaced by the confidence, belief and momentum that comes from winning football matches.
KILDARE: 1 Mark Donnellan; 2 Peter Kelly (0-1), 3 David Hyland, 4 Mick O'Grady; 5 Johnny Byrne, 6 Eoin Doyle, 7 Kevin Flynn (0-2); 8 Kevin Feely (0-1), 9 Tommy Moolick (0-1); 10 Fergal Conway (0-1), 11 Paul Cribbin (0-1), 12 Keith Cribbin (0-1); 13 Neil Flynn (1-5, three frees), 14 Daniel Flynn (1-3), 15 Paddy Brophy (0-2). Substitutes: 22 Fionn Dowling for Moolick 43 mins; 18 Chris Healy (1-2) for Feely 45 mins; 19 N Kelly for P Cribben 49 mins; 17 David Slattery for K Cribben 51 mins; 20 E Callaghan for D Flynn 54 mins; 23 Mark Hyland for N Flynn 62 mins.
FERMANAGH: 1 Patrick Cadden; 5 Barry Mulrone (0-1), 3 Che Cullen, 4 Michael Jones; 6 James McMahon (0-1); 7 Lee Cullen, 11 Declan McCusker (0-1), 12 Aidan Breen; 8 Eoin Donnelly, 20 Tom Clarke; 22 Daniel Teague, 9 Ryan Jones (0-2), 21 Ruairi Corrigan (0-1); 13 Conall Jones, 15 Seamus Quigley (0-7, five frees). Substitutes: 2 Kane Connors for Teague 23 mins; 23 Thomas Corrigan (0-2) for Breen 31 mins; 24 Ryan Lyons for Jones half-time; 10 Paul McCusker for Clarke 43 mins; 13 Sean Quigley (0-3) for R Corrigan 43 mins; 26 C McGee for Mulrone 59 mins.
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)
First half: 1-13
Second half: 2-7
From play: 3-17
Frees conceded: 13
Yellow cards: 1
Red cards: 0
Black cards: 0
First half: 0-5
Second half: 0-13
From play: 0-13
Frees conceded: 15
Yellow cards: 0
Red cards: 0
Black cards: 0