Westmeath slug by Kildare into another Leinster final

Second half purple patch by Tom Cribbin’s team enough to edge dull encounter

Westmeath 1-12 Kildare 1-11

In the long and ignoble history of Kildare finding ways to lose championship matches, this one was a doozy. Seven minutes into the second half, they were six points up and coasting. Westmeath had managed just a solitary point since the opening quarter and looked, frankly, like a team that had fallen through the floors of the Allianz League after three relegations in a row. This was – or should have been – done.

But no gambler ever went broke betting on Kildare’s ability to cough up a lead. They downed tools here like French train drivers and showed Westmeath a way back into the game. They didn’t score again until injury-time, a half-hour period in which they conceded 1-6 on the bounce and let Tom Cribbin’s side chip their way to a second successive Leinster final.

No sooner had Eoghan O'Flaherty put Kildare 1-9 to 0-6 ahead than Westmeath shook themselves. A lead that Kildare had studiously built through unspectacular domination either side of the break evaporated inside four minutes. James Dolan got in for a goal, Ray Connellan and Paul Sharry stitched rapid-fire points and just like that, it was a level game with only 47 minutes on the clock. Kildare were goosed and they didn't even know it yet.

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“Yeah, that was probably the most disappointing aspect of the game,” said Cian O’Neill afterwards. “It was nip and tuck for long periods, a point this way, a point the other, two points up, two points down. When you wrestle that kind of momentum away from an opponent you really need to go for the jugular and be clinical and ruthless. We were neither in that frantic six- to 10-minute period.

“Every team has a purple patch and your role as the opponent is to try and limit what they can do in that period. We just didn’t contain them. Once they got back level, the momentum was with them and they pushed on like any good team would do, coming from six points down. In fairness to the (his) guys, they showed tremendous resilience and character towards the end to get within one and had chances to equalise, but at that stage it was too little, too late and we just weren’t able to get one back to grab the draw.”

The killer for Kildare – and it’s hardly the first time we’ve seen this either – is that they were the better side for long stretches here but couldn’t make it count. A grim and gruelling first half saw both sides retreat to their trenches and take potshots – it was just that Kildare’s were better aimed. Despite Westmeath leading by 0-5 to 0-2 after 20 minutes, O’Neill’s team looked to have more about them and started to reflect that on the scoreboard after a while.

Emmet Bolton stole up the left flank on three occasions unseen and untouched and nicked two smart points from the enterprise. Niall Kelly shimmied inside Kevin Maguire to take an excellent score on 22 minutes, newcomers Johnny Byrne and Adam Tyrrell followed up with terrific kicks from distance.

All in all, Kildare didn't exactly look exciting but they were functional and effective and well worth their 0-7 to 0-6 half-time lead. And when Tomy Moolick bundled home their goal five minutes after the break – palming into the net from all of a foot out after Neil Flynn's run along the endline ended with him fisting against the crossbar – it looked like the day's business was done.

Kildare would have been decent value for it by then if it had been the case. Their set-up is incredibly defensive under O’Neill but they are young and developing and could possibly go places in time. When O’Flaherty kicked them into that six-point lead soon after, it meant they had outscored Westmeath by 1-7 to 0-1 since the 20th minute. That should have been that.

But they gave a sucker an even break and paid heavily for it. After the rat-a-tat 1-3 that Westmeath scored to level matters, it was Tom Cribbin's side who pushed on. John Heslin landed his fourth classy free of the day, Martin popped a brilliant score from out on the left, busy substitute Callum McCormack landed a cracking point on the run from 45 metres. They took the game and steered it their own way while Kildare watched on, heads hanging.

“I suppose we probably were a bit too defensive – we didn’t attack the game as we should have in the first half,” said Cribbin. “We didn’t do it until they went six pints up. But then, Jimmy Dolan, Kieran Martin and Paul Sharry started stepping up and running at them and going at them. And I think that was the difference.”

WESTMEATH: 1 Darren Quinn; 2 Jamie Gonoud, 3 Francis Boyle, 4 Kevin Maguire; 5 Killian Daly, 6 Alan Stone, 7 James Dolan (1-0); 8 Ger Egan, 9 Denis Corroon; 10 David Lynch, 11 Paul Sharry (0-3, one free), 12 Ray Connellan (0-2); 13 Kieran Martin (0-2), 14 John Heslin (0-4, frees), 15 John Connellan.

Subs: 17 Callum McCormack (0-1) for Stone (47 mins), 19 John Egan for J Connellan (57 mins), 20 Ronan Foley for R Connellan (63 mins). Black card: 24 Rob Gorman for Maguire (74 mins).

KILDARE: 1 Mark Donnellan; 2 Peter Kelly, 3 David Hylan, 4 Ollie Lyons; 5 Johnny Byrne (0-1), 6 Eoin Doyle (capt), 7 Cian O'Donoghue; 8 Tommy Moolick (1-0), 9 Fergal Conway (0-1); 10 Adam Tyrrell (0-1), 11 Morgan O'Flaherty, 12 Eoghan O'Flaherty (0-1); 19 Emmet Bolton (0-2), 14 Niall Kelly (0-1), 15 Neil Flynn (0-4, frees).

Subs: 13. Cathal McNally for Tyrrell (45 mins), 21. Kevin Murnaghan for Bolton (50 mins), 25. Ciarán Fitzpatrick for O'Donoghue (57 mins), 20. Eamonn Callaghan for E O'Flaherty (60 mins), 18. Ryan Houlihan for Byrne (67 mins). Blood subs: 19. John Egan for Martin (8-16 mins). Martin returns as number 27. Black card: 24. Chris Healy for N Kelly (55 mins)

Referee: Derek O'Mahoney (Tipperary)

Attendance: 42,259

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times