Resurgent Royals roll back the years


LEINSTER SFC SEMI-FINAL: Meath 1-17 Kildare 1-11A CLASSIC ambush at Croke Park yesterday, as hot favourites Kildare firstly couldn’t shake off Meath and then couldn’t catch them. Any number of Meath football realists – and who else in that county follows the game? – professed afterwards that they hadn’t seen this coming. Whatever about them, Kildare certainly didn’t, either – nor anyone else, not looking to be considered wise after the event.

Meath came in understrength by anything up to six players having huffed and puffed to get past Carlow. They’d lost their previous three championship matches to Kildare, who had steamrolled Offaly in the last round, apparently moving inexorably towards the presumed Leinster final against Dublin.

Maybe you need to temper the impact of the absentee list by factoring in some stunning performances by the Meath youngsters.

Conor Gillespie soared, cleaning up under aerial ball and taking Kildare’s new-fangled tactical complexities into a time machine and showing how Meath centrefielders down the generations have dealt with the demands of the position. He even managed to be on hand in injury-time to block Emmet Bolton, as Kildare desperately chased what was long by then a lost cause.

On the half-forward line in front of him, Damien Carroll, the young Ballinabrackey centre forward, ran all day gathering possession and using it constructively. On the left wing Alan Forde’s pace and mobility also created havoc at various stages.

Kildare by comparison moved the ball too slowly and needed the input of too many hands to open up opportunities and when they did create such openings, the old failings in front of goal haunted them once more.

They appeared to be coping with the spirited resistance from Meath and left themselves in a good position to strike for the finish line before the sending-off of centrefielder Daryl Flynn appeared to unhinge them and provide their opponents with a source of oxygen.

But none of these calamities were apparent in the early stages when James Kavanagh and Bolton, breaking from centrefield, put Kildare two up whereas during the same period Meath shot three wides.

As the crowd waited for the floodgates to open, Meath kept plugging away and gradually got back into the game. By pushing up the wings they exposed Kildare for pace and created scores. Joe Sheridan provided a target and was instrumental as Meath drew level, laying off a ball for Carroll and scoring the other himself.

Suitably emboldened, Meath hit the front and coped with Kildare’s more laboured attacks. When the favourites tried to  go long to bring Tomás O’Connor’s ball winning into play they found stand-in full back Bryan Menton imperturbable under the high ball and although O’Connor played his part in a couple of scores he was unable to establish a constant reign of terror.

John Doyle struggled for mobility and was unable to take charge for Kildare. He was eventually replaced in the 50th minute.

Meath led by a point at half-time – it was nearly more and referee Michael Collins had reason to be grateful that Cian Ward’s shot dropped short as he blew the whistle as the kick was being taken.

Manager Kieran McGeeney later accepted that his team hadn’t been at their best but the plan was progressing as anticipated up until the start of the final quarter.

By then Kildare had neutralised a half-time deficit, Alan Smith scoring three points from play in eight minutes, and their fitness levels, conditioning and conditioning were expected to kick in and take them home.

Instead Flynn, already on a yellow card, incautiously lunged at a loose ball and caught Carroll. The resulting free was converted by Brian Farrell to put Meath 0-12 to 0-11 ahead and crucially Flynn got the line for a second yellow and it turned out to be one of those red cards that hurt a team.

Initially though, Kildare responded well and when a ball came off the woodwork, O’Connor was quickest to respond and pass to Eoghan O’Flaherty, who in turn gave it to Mikey Conway. His shot was well saved by David Gallagher but the rebound was deflected into the goal to put the favourites in front.

Joe Sheridan – who had been narrowly wide in the 41st minute when released inside by Carroll – nearly got in for a riposte two minutes later but went for goal in too narrow a confine and was blocked.

Farrell chipped up the loose ball and pointed and within seconds Graham Reilly, performing the running centrefield role beside Gillespie to his usual high standard, drove through to kick the equaliser.

On the hour Carroll dug out possession from a ruck of players and provided a scoring pass for replacement Peadar Byrne to career in and to slam home the goal that effectively pulled the cord on the curtain.

With three more points to come, from replacements Stephen Bray and Jamie Queeney (two), Meath weren’t finished but Kildare most certainly were.

MEATH: 1 D Gallagher; 2 D Keogan, 3 B Menton, 7 M Burke; 5 D Tobin, 6 S McAnarney (capt), 4 C Leneghan; 8 C Gillespie, 12 G Reilly (0-3); 9 B Meade, 11 D Carroll (0-1), 10 A Forde (0-1); 14 J Sheridan (0-3, 0-1 45), 15 C Ward, 13 B Farrell (0-6, 0-4 frees). Subs: 18 E Harrington for Lenihan (18 mins), 17 S Bray (0-1) for Ward (41 mins), 23 P Byrne (1-0) for Meade (48 mins), 26 K Reilly for Menton(67 mins), 22 J Queeney (0-2) for Forde (69 mins). Yellow cards: Lenehan (15 mins), Reilly (28 mins), Carroll (33 mins).

KILDARE: 1 S Connolly; 4 P Kelly, 7 O Lyons, 3 M Foley; 2 H McGrillen, 6 M O’Flaherty, 12 P O’Neill; 8 E Bolton (0-1), 21 D Flynn; 13 J Doyle (0-1), 15 E O’Flaherty (0-3, all frees), 10 J Kavanagh (0-1); 24 A Smith (0-3), 14 T O’Connor (0-1), 11 M Conway (1-1, 0-1 free). Subs: 22 P Fogarty for Doyle (50 mins), 9 R Kelly for Kavanagh (61 mins), 26 D Earley for O’Connor (63 mins), 20 R Sweeney for O’Neill (63 mins), 23 E Callaghan for Conway (63 mins). Yellow cards: Flynn (43 mins and 53 mins), E O’Flaherty (67 mins). Red card: Flynn (53 mins).

Referee: M Collins (Cork).

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