Kildare 2-16 Meath 0-13
Much more of this and Kildare’s lost decade will be in danger of finding itself. They came to Tullamore as apparent equals with Meath and left with clear water between them and the other side we thought most likely to make Dublin sweat for a Leinster title. If both sides were at a crossroads before this, Kildare powered through. Meath dithered and have a couple of weeks to pick through the wreckage.
Kildare haven’t hung out their colours like this in years. They were full of pace and intent and direct running, so much so that Meath looked men who were settling in for a long, slow, film noir only to find they’d walked into a blockbuster.
Andy McEntee’s side were ponderous at both ends of the pitch. They were cleaned out in midfield and on the rare occasion they did manage to move into the Kildare half, they couldn’t make the ball stick in the full-forward line.
Cathal McNally started like an All Star. He had 1-3 on the board inside the first 18 minutes, all of it from play. Donnacha Tobin’s life was a misery trying to hang onto him - the goal came via McNally taking advantage of a slip under a high ball and though Paddy O’Rourke got a hand to the shot, it squirted in all the same.
Feeding time at the zoo
O'Rourke didn't have a happy day in the Meath goal either. His kick-outs were feeding time at the zoo for Kevin Feely and Tommy Moolick. The Kildare midfielders had a bonanza, taking marks at will and funnelling ever more ball into McNally, Daniel Flynn and Paddy Brophy inside. Kildare were having such a fine time of it they could afford for Niall Kelly, man-marked by Mickey Burke, to be unusually quiet.
Flynn and Brophy both had two points each to their name by half-time, each of them a picture. Flynn nailed a couple on the run, one of them a grace note to another Moolick mark. Brophy was dynamite inside, turning and splitting the posts as if he’d never been away. His was the last score of the opening half, sending Kildare in 1-10 to 0-4 ahead at the break.
First half rout
Truth is, they should have been further to the good. They had nine wides by that stage and had dropped two efforts short. Meath had been routed, all ends up.
McEntee’s side raised a gallop at the start of the second half, rattling off the first four points in a row. Donal Lenihan had held his end up reasonably well in the first half, given the lack of ball going into him and it was the Meath corner-forward who shook them into life. He stuck two points and set up substitute Ruairí Ó Coileáin for a third, infusing the Meath crowd with hope and enthusiasm.
It couldn't last. Feely chipped a free to settle Kildare, Flynn added another after Eoin Doyle robbed another O'Rourke kick-out. And though Bryan Menton hit back with a couple of fine kicks from distance inside a couple of minutes, the excellent Flynn and Feely replied to keep the gap at seven.
And when Flynn rose to palm home a Davis Slattery alley-oop on 66 minutes, that was all she wrote.
Meath: Paddy O'Rourke; Mickey Burke (0-1), Conor McGill, Donnacha Tobin; Pauric Harnan, Donal Keogan, Shane McEntee (0-1); Bryan Menton (0-2), Ronan Jones; James Toher (0-1), Cillian O'Sullivan, Eamon Wallace; Graham Reilly, Bryan McMahon, Donal Lenihan (0-5, 0-2 frees). Subs: James McEntee for Toher, 28 mins; Ruairí Ó Coileáin (0-3) for Wallace, 37 mins; Brian Conlon for Jones, 47 mins; Tomás O'Reilly for McMahon, 52 mins; Sean Tobin for Reilly, 57 mins; Alan Douglas for O'Sullivan
Kildare: Mark Donnellan; David Hyland, Mick O'Grady, Ollie Lyons; Johnny Byrne, Eoin Doyle, Keith Cribbin; Kevin Feely (0-5, 0-4 frees), Tommy Moolick; Fergal Conway, Niall Kelly, David Slattery; Cathal McNally (1-3), Daniel Flynn (1-4), Paddy Brophy (0-2). Subs: Eamonn Callaghan (0-1) for Brophy, 50 mins; Fionn Dowling for Moolick, 59 mins; Chris Healy for McNally, 61 mins; Peter Kelly for Hyland, 65 mins; Neil Flynn (0-1, free) for Byrne, 67 mins; Emmet Bolton for Doyle, 67 mins
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)