Mattie Donnelly kicks dramatic late point to see off Kildare

In a closely fought contest Kildare came out on the wrong side of a one-point defeat again

Kildare 0-18 Tyrone 1-16

It took a Mattie Donnelly point from the heavens to win this one, kicked off balance from the next postcode as the clock ticked into its 76th minute. On a day when blanket defending wasn’t so much a game strategy as a means of huddling up for warmth, Tyrone skipped back north with the points by bobbing their head an inch lower at the line than Kildare did. It was enough.

Only barely so, since there very little to choose between these sides. Kildare were sick to leave it behind them, their second one-point defeat in a week after losing at home to Monaghan last Sunday. Cian O’Neill is entitled to feel reasonably conflicted about where his team are at just now. No more than fellow zero-from-three team Donegal, they don’t deserve to be pointless at the league’s first break in play. But in Division One, deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

“It’s cruel,” O’Neill said afterwards. “To be fair to the lads, they’ve put in a massive shift and I’m very proud of them. We went down two in the second half and in other years that could easily have become three or four or more. But they kept at it and responded well and sometimes you just need a little bit of luck and that hasn’t been on our side recently.


“At the moment, we’re not getting the points but incrementally, each week we are getting better. Dublin into Monaghan into today – that has to be a positive for our growth as we head into championship. If we were getting beaten by seven or eight points in games, maybe you’d say we were here a year or two too soon. But we’re not. We’re close and the margins are very, very fine. We just need to do a little bit extra to get ourselves over the line.”

They need to start doing it quickly, too. The weekend’s results make their trip to Donegal in a fortnight something close to a relegation decider. It may yet be the fate that awaits both teams anyway – so far in this decade, 18 counties across the divisions have lost their first three games and only four of those have survived. One way or the other, it’s a fixture with no wiggle room.

It will have to go some to be as engaging a contest as this was. In flashes, both sides showed enough here to make them feel that they can do damage against the higher-ups if they can iron out their kinks. The flipside of that, of course, is that the kinks are where the higher-ups will aim to make merry.

Kildare found themselves with an early 0-5 to 0-1 lead that owed as much to woeful Tyrone shooting as anything else. From there, O’Neill’s side were brighter for most of the first half but couldn’t get to the break intact, Lee Brennan’s neat finish to their net on 28 minutes a fairly ruthless tax on what was only a slight error on the Kildare full-back line. With Niall Sludden on song, Tyrone rattled off 1-4 in the 10 minutes before half-time to take a one-point lead into the dressing room.

It was ding-dong stuff all the way home after that. Kevin Feely had another fine game for Kildare and kept them ticking over by popping frees. Tyrone had a wider spread of scoretakers and used a decent wind to their advantage with fine scores from Pádraig McNulty, Cathal McShane and the first of two from Donnelly.

They couldn’t shake Kildare off, however. Cian O’Donoghue surged forward for a rousing score from wing-back, Feely nailed another free. When he kicked his eighth of the day – to go with one from play – in the 73rd minute, it looked like a draw was inevitable.

But Donnelly had other ideas. His winning score was a monumental effort from out on the left-hand side, drawing in on the breeze and earning Tyrone only their second away win in Division One since their last snatched victory in Newbridge in March 2014.

“I think it was a good game of football,” said Mickey Harte afterwards. “It’s sad for anybody to have to lose that game. Kildare deserved something out of it, I felt we deserved something out of it, and probably luck was on our side to help us get the two points today.

“It’s a battle all the way and you look at the teams you have to play, you can’t look ahead and say ‘these are easy games’. Monaghan, Donegal, Mayo and Kerry, if we don’t get points on the board now the ones coming up aren’t any easier. It gives us that bit of confidence to believe that we can pick up a couple of points. Picking up points away, we haven’t done that for a long time. To get this today is very, very vital for us.”

KILDARE: Mark Donnellan (0-1, 45); Peter Kelly (0-1), David Hyland, Mick O'Grady; Johnny Byrne, Eoin Doyle, Cian O'Donoghue (0-1); Kevin Feely (0-9, 0-8 frees), Tommy Moolick; Fergal Conway (0-2), Niall Kelly (0-1), Paul Cribbin (0-1); Ben McCormack (0-1), Daniel Flynn (0-1), Paddy Brophy.

Subs: Jimmy Hyland for McCormack, half-time; Luke Flynn for Moolick, 48 mins; Chris Healy for N Kelly, 55 mins; Keith Cribbin for Conway, 61 mins; Cathal McNally for Brophy, 65 mins.

TYRONE: Niall Morgan (0-1,free); Hugh Pat McGeary, Paudie Hampsey, Cathal McCarron; Tiarnan McCann (0-1), Rory Brennan, Ciaran McLaughlin; Mattie Donnelly (0-2), Pádraig McNulty (0-1); Conor Meyler, Niall Sludden (0-3), Peter Harte; Lee Brennan (1-3, 0-3 frees), Cathal McShane (0-2), Connor McAlliskey (0-2, 0-1 free).

Subs: Conal McCann for McNulty (blood), 6-10 mins; Michael McKernan for McLaughlin, 39 mins; Darrne McCurry (0-1) for R Brennan, 43 mins; Ronan McNamee for McNulty, 54 mins; C McCann for L Brennan, 58 mins; Mark Bradley for MCAlliskwey, 61 mins; Kieran McGeary for T McCann, 76 mins.

Referee: Paddy Neilan (Roscommon).