Tempers flare as Kildare see off Meath in Newbridge

Newbridge encounter saw Conor McGill and Brian Conlon sent off in the closing stages

Tempers flare between the two teams near the end of the game. Photo: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Tempers flare between the two teams near the end of the game. Photo: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

 

Kildare 1-14 Meath 0-14

It finished in the heat of the summer sunshine with the Lilywhites seemingly in bloom and then suddenly wilting, still as rewarding an afternoon for Kildare football for some time.

Far closer and less comfortable than the score suggests, they held off a spirited rally and an even later goal chance from Meath that might have spun the game into extra-time and God knows what after that. By then Kildare had run their white socks off, with a casualty list to prove it, and even without the ticket to a Division Two final, the prize of promotion to business class football for the new season beginning again in 2022 is a more than ample prize.

For Meath manager Andy McEntee it was a classic case of too little, too late, although that wasn’t his only complaint: after a suitably heated brawl that spilled over to the sideline in front of the Meath management, entering added time, two Meath players were red-carded, full back Conor McGill and replacement Brian Conlon, two more getting booked, with only one Kildare player seeing yellow.

Afterwards McEntee claimed in no uncertain terms that McGill had been spat at in the face, pointing towards Kildare as the more likely instigators of it all: and he wasn’t in any way hopeful about the appeal process either.

“Don’t talk to me about the sendings off,” said McEntee. “We had a player who got spat on in the face and he ends up getting sent off so I mean ... how many players were involved in that? A) how many players were involved in it, and B) who started it? And what was the outcome? It seems slightly imbalanced to me. But obviously I’m biased.

“Conor McGill is not a fighter. Somebody spits in your face, what are you going to do? There’s no appealing it, you’re wasting your time appealing. That’s always been my experience. If the referee says he struck, he struck.”

Kildare manager Jack O’Connor wasn’t being drawn into that controversy, more concerned it seemed at his rising blood pressure in that frantic climax. “Not good for the heart no,” said O’Connor. “Look we got over the line, we’d a lot of setbacks in that game. Losing four big players, for us, we just dug in there, and that’s a testament to the lads on the panel who came in and did a great job.

“We kind of reinvented this panel over the last year and a half, and this will do them an awful lot of good. Look, we were often determined what happened to us in the second half last year, that we’d a shot at redemption today. It was nearly more about that than winning the game.

“It wasn’t pleasant in the last 10 minutes, but we got over the line. That was a proper championship pace of a game, not a league game. And it was a bog priority to get to Division One, and a county the size of Kildare should be playing in Division One.”

Heading back to Division One for the first time since 2018, Kildare certainly displayed plenty of spirit and intent, even if running a little short of it in the end. They played an exceptionally high tempo game in the first half, despite the heat, with superb intent to match.

They hit Meath with 1-1 without reply in the first five minutes, Jimmy Hyland latching perfectly onto Neil Flynn’s sweet pass to finish the goal. Minutes later Hyland limped off with a hamstring injury, setting the tone for the game as Paul Cribbin (ankle) and Kevin Feely (hamstring) also retired early, while Meath would lose Donal Keoghan to a shoulder injury and Bryan Menton to an ankle strain.

Kildare also started without full forward Daniel Flynn (who strained his hamstring midweek), Aaron Masterson coming in at midfield, Feely going to full forward.

The Royals looked pavement flat, at times their accuracy and concentration letting them down. Kildare were rope-tight in defence, Eoin Doyle giving a rare display of man-marking on Cillian O’Sullivan. Though fine scores from Jordan Morris and Bryan McMahon got them back to within two points, Meath finished out that first half not scoring since the 18th minute, Kildare tagging on four without reply - Neil Flynn twice (one free), and two excellent points from Brian McLoughlin and Alex Beirne - to turnaround in front 1-7 to 0-4.

Kildare were up by six points in the Leinster semi-final last autumn, and eventually lost by nine, 5-9 to 0-15, but didn’t seem to have anything to worry about here as two more super attacking scores from Flynn saw then 1-11 to 0-6 ahead.

On 50 minutes, Kildare lost midfielder Luke Flynn who was shown a straight red card for what match referee Barry Cassidy flagged as a stamping incident with Meath replacement Brian Conlon (who was booked). From there and without much warning Meath eventually clawed their way back into the game, thanks in part to three replacements Joey Wallace, Michael Newman and Eamon Wallace.

When another Morris free in added time left just the goal between them, the clock now at 78 minutes, Darragh Campion finished off the last scramble for the leveling goal, only for Mark Donnellan to get his hands to it.

“We weren’t at the pitch of it all the first half I’m afraid Kildare dictated the pace and physicality of the game, we weren’t winning the contests,” added McEntee. “Kildare were certainly at championship physicality, unfortunately I don’t think we matched them until it was probably too late, and even though we probably could have snatched something.”

KILDARE: M Donnellan; M Dempsey, M O’Grady, E Doyle; K Flynn, D Hyland, R Houlihan; L Flynn, A Masterson; F Conway, N Flynn (0-3 one free), P Cribbin; J Hyland (1-0), K Feely (0-2, one mark), D Kirwan (0-2).

Subs: B McLoughlin (0-5, three frees) for Hyland (8 mins, inj), A Beirne (0-1) for Cribbin (16 mins, inj), S O’Sullivan for Feely (41 mins, inj), C Hartley for Flynn, S Ryan (0-1) for Conway (both 55 mins), D Malone for Kirwan (71 mins).

MEATH: A Colgan; S Lavin, C McGill, C Hickey (0-2); D Keogan, S McEntee, F Reilly (0-1); B Menton, E Devine (0-1); P Harnan, B McMahon (0-1), M Costello; J Morris (0-4, two frees), T O’Reilly, C O’Sullivan (0-1).

Subs: B Conlon for Menton (31 mins, inj), J Wallace (0-1) for O’Reilly (half time), E Wallace (0-1) for Costello (38 mins), J Scully for Keogan (55 mins, inj), R Ryan for Lavin, D Campion for Harnan, M Newman (0-2, both frees) for McMahon (all 54 mins).

Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry).

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