Kildare grasp their opportunity to squeeze the life out of Down’s challenge

Jason Ryan’s charges show their promise with a convincing victory in Newry

Kildare 1-18 Down 0-11

A team with an identity crisis is one that will always leave you scratching your head. Which is the real Kildare?

Yesterday's All-Ireland football qualifier managed to combine the best and worst traits of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and, yet, the size of the eventual winning margin – a worthy ten points – would suggest they are a team worth keeping an eye on as the back door system evolves.

In picking themselves up from their Leinster championship exit to Meath, Kildare journeyed into Páirc Esler and showed no fear and got the job done in front of a crowd of 6,375. At times, their football was exquisite and often breathtaking; at others, particularly for the first 15 minutes of the second half, they were chasing shadows.


To the credit of the Kildare management, they were quick to make changes too. When Down's Benny Coulter was thrust onto the edge of the square, back to old familiar territory, and appeared to have magically rejuvenated the home side who dervishly wiped out a five-points interval deficit in the space of seven minutes with five unanswered points, Hugh McGrillen was called ashore and Mick O'Grady thrown in to curb Coulter's influence. It worked.

Kicking boots

Kildare responded to the early second-half onslaught by discovering their kicking boots when it mattered most with all six of their starting forwards scoring from play. What more can you ask for? Well, 13 wides over the course of the match would suggest there is still some work to be done on the training ground.

Kildare's indiscipline would also be a concern: on two occasions, referee David Coldrick was required to dispense black cards – to Eamonn Callaghan, in the first half and to Gary White. Ironically, in a way, Callaghan's black carding forced manager Jason Ryan's hand and resulted in the introduction of Alan Smith who made quite the impression, showing willingly for the ball and kicking three points that invigorated Kildare's attack.

At half-time, Kildare had worked up a comfortable 0-8 to 0-3 lead that could have been more. Down, on the other hand, looked second best in most areas with Donal O’Hare’s free-taking keeping them in the game and Kevin McKernan, from half-back, attempting to bring some life into their challenge.

“We were disappointed at half-time, we were limping out without a fight,” said Down manager James McCartan, whose interval pep talk was along the lines of letting his men know they had to “at least go out with a fight”. And, for the opening 15 minutes or so of the second half, it seemed as if they could turn matters around as five successive points – from O’Hare, Coulter, McKernan, Darren O’Hagan and Coulter again – brought them level.

The game was still tight and liable to go either way when Kildare got the benefit of a contentious call from the match officials, as Pádraig Fogarty’s shot – which from the stands looked to have veered wide – was adjudged to have maintained its flight-path through the uprights.

“When you lose a game by the margin we did, it is hard to look back and blame one particular incident . . . . (but) the game was in the melting pot, it gave them a big fillip,” said McCartan.

That Fogarty point gave the visitors a 0-13 to 0-11 advantage and the momentum. From there on, Kildare never looked back. Down, their heads dropping, their tackling almost non-existent, collapsed completely. There was no fight left. The storm Instead, that Fogarty score was the catalyst for Kildare to freewheel home with the sort of football which – if it could be delivered for an entire match – would trouble any of the championship contenders. Instrumental in almost everything good that Kildare created was the livewire centre-half forward Niall Kelly, who consistently showed f the ball, used it intelligently and also landed two fine points .

"We needed to weather the storm . . . . it was tough going for a long time, especially at the start of the second half," said Kelly. "The Meath match was a tough defeat, we were very disappointed, but we had to put the hands back on the wheel and get going again. You never know with the qualifiers, you can get a bit of momentum."

Tommy Moolick blasted home a late goal from 20 metres to put the icing on the cake for the visitors.

DOWN: M Cunningham; D McCartan, D Rooney (0-1), D O'Hagan (0-1); C McCartan, C Garvey, K McKernan (0-1); D Gordon, P Turley; B Coulter (0-3), C Maginn (0-1), M Poland; D O'Hare (0-3, frees), N Madine, C Laverty (0-1). Subs: C Toner for Turley (34 mins), B Johnson for Madine (half-time), B McArdle for McCartan (47 mins); D Turley for B Johnson (64 mins).

KILDARE: M Donnellan; C Fitzpatrick, H McGrillen, O Lyons; E Bolton (0-1), F Conway, K Cribbin; T Moolick (1-0), G White (0-1); C McNally (0-2), N Kelly (0-2), P O'Neill (0-3); E Callaghan (0-1), P Fogarty (0-4, one free one 45), E O'Flaherty (0-1). Subs: M O'Grady for McGrillen (45 mins), T O'Connor for O'Flaherty (53 mins), E Doyle for Bolton (58 mins), M Conway for McNally (70 mins). Black card replacements: A Smith (0-3) for Callaghan (25 mins), H Lynch for White (50 mins).

Referee: D Coldrick (Meath).

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times