Feely’s the Winning Ticket for O’Neill

Kildare 1-12 Offaly 1-8

It’s been a long time coming and until the the autumn seemed like it was destined never to happen. But the sight of Athy’s Kevin Feely lording it in a white jersey in St. Conleth’s Park was enough to warm the cockles of every Kildare supporter present.

An underage starlet before making the grade in professional soccer with Newport County, Feely took the difficult decision to move back to Ireland to go back to college and see how far he could go in gaelic football.

On today’s evidence : a long long way. Before getting too carried away we have to remember this was Division 3 league football in February. But it’s hard to recall a debutant take to senior inter-county football with Kildare with such aplomb. Feely stamped his mark on the game from the start, dominating aerial possession, demanding the ball at all times and driving his team forward with clever link-up play and foot-passing into the forward line.

Feely was an underage colleague of a number of today’s team and it was noticeable how well he linked up with the likes of Paul Cribbin, Daniel Flynn and clubmate Niall Kelly in particular as Cian O’Neill continued to place his faith in a youthful line-up.

With inexperience comes inconsistency but in the relatively calm waters of the third tier you hope to get away with it. Just as they did against Westmeath, Kildare took control of the match in the first half and led by 4 points at half-time. But having extended their lead to 9 points by the 55th minute they took their foot off the gas and allowed Offaly to claw back to within a goal as the game entered injury time.

Thankfully they managed to close it out again but O’Neill will have some concerns about another fade out when the team was in control.

Kildare’s football in the first 15 minutes in particular was a cut above anything they produced in Mullingar with Kelly putting on a scoring masterclass from play. The talented UCD student notched the game’s first 3 points within 5 minutes before the busy Adam Tyrell surpassed even those efforts with an outrageous long-range point on the left.

Feely then stepped up to make it 0-5 to 0-0 with a superb curler from the left hand side to open his senior inter-county account.

Offaly began to claw their way back into it and their talisman Niall McNamee put them on the scoreboard after 18 barren minutes, followed by a Bernard Allen free.

In the second quarter Kildare continued to create scoring opportunities and Feely was instrumental as Cribbin got into his stride with two fine points, the Johnstownbridge man seemingly shaking off a quiet performance last week before being withdrawn at half-time, somewhat surprisingly.

Kelly made it four points from play on the stroke of half-time to go in 0-8 to 0-4 ahead, Offaly’s other scores coming from Sean Moriarty and McNamee. Having shot 6 first half wides, hit the uprights twice from frees and dropped another effort into the goalkeeper’s hands, Kildare would have been disappointed to only be 4 to the good having played with the wind.

As seems to be his way, O’Neill eked out every last minute from the half-time break leaving Offaly freezing on the pitch. In keeping with the day that was in it, Mary Feely from Athy was announced as the winner of the half-time draw. When it’s your day it’s your day!

Eoghan O’Flaherty, dropped after a quiet performance against Westmeath, replaced Cribbin and was busy in the second period without managing to break his scoring duck in this National League. And with Kelly less conspicuous after the break it was Neil Flynn who took over the scoring duties for the home side as they faced a strong wind.

Flynn has had a difficult introduction to senior fare. He saw little of the ball last week and had been off target with his free-taking again in the first-half. But 5 minutes after the re-start the under-21 star from last year hit a beauty of a long range free from the right hand side into the teeth of the wind at the Kilcullen end and you felt his senior career was out of the starting blocks. He went on to notch 4 frees in total including the insurance point at the death.

Offaly’s race looked to be run when Kildare scored their goal in the 46th minute to go 1-9 to 0-4 ahead. Long-serving Eamon Callaghan perceptively saw Cathal McNally make a great run into space and the lively Johnstownbridge man kept his nerve to fire a fine shot past Alan Mulhall.

Flynn pushed them 9 ahead by the 49th minute before Joe Maher got Offaly’s second-half off the ground with a long range free into the town end. Another Flynn free stretched the lead again and there was really no sign of an Offaly fight-back as Kildare if anything had upped the intensity of their defending and were consistently turning over ball as the midlanders  ran into brick walls.

Niall Darby’s magnificent long-range effort merely kept the scoreboard ticking over it seemed and as the game and Kildare were still 8 points to the good with 6 minutes remaining.

A controversial and perhaps harsh penalty decision gave the visitors a lifeline. As Graham Guilfoyle charged into the box Cian O’Donoghue was adjudged to have tripped him earning himself a black card for his sins. Peter Cunningham blasted the spot kick past Mark Donnellan.

There was still 5 points between them at that stage but Offaly had their tails up and Kildare got the jitters. Niall Smith and Cian Donoghue grabbed two more points from play and the gap was down to three as we entered injury time. It could have been level if McNamee had not squandered three reasonable scoring chances in the final 10 minutes.

Kildare played cleverly in those final minutes however, winning and keeping possession effectively, and it was left to Flynn to have the last word when he picked himself up from a heavy tackle to fire over his fourth free from 21 metres.

So it’s 4 points out of 4 and O’Neill now has 3 weeks to work more on his young charges. There’s no doubt he’s trying to raise the standards the players expect from themselves, best illustrated by the very public scolding of Ollie Lyons when hauled ashore moments after carelessly losing possession on the edge of the D.

Message sent and hopefully received by the full panel.

Kildare line-up, ratings and scorers:

  1. Mark Donnellan (Maynooth) 6
  2. Peter Kelly (Two Mile House) 7
  3. David Hyland (Athy) 7
  4. Ollie Lyons (Celbridge) 6 ( Sub 59 mins Eoin Powderly (Kilcock)
  5. Ryan Houlihan (Moorefield) 6 (Sub 52 mins Emmet Bolton (Eadestown) 6)
  6. Fergal Conway (Celbridge) 7
  7. Cian O’Donoghue (Clane) 6 (B/C, Sub 55 mins Johnny Byrne (Allenwood) 6)
  8. Daniel Flynn (Johnstownbridge) 7
  9. Kevin Feely (Athy) 9 0-1
  10. Adam Tyrell (Moorefield) 6 0-1 (Sub 44 mins Padraig O’Neill (St.Laurence’s) 6
  11. Niall Kelly (Athy) 8 0-4
  12. Paul Cribbin (Johnstownbridge) 7 0-2 (Sub H/T Eoghan O’Flaherty (Carbury) 6
  13. Neil Flynn (Maynooth) 6 0-4 (4f)
  14. Eamon Callaghan (Naas) 6 (Sub 62 Mark Sherry (Two Mile House))
  15. Cathal McNally (Johnstownbridge) 6 1-0

Offaly: Alan Mulhall; Brian Darby, Eoin Rigney, Sean Pender; Niall Darby 0-1, Cian Donoghue 0-1, Joey O’Connor; Graham Guilfoyle, Jason Gettings; Conor McNamee, Michael Brazil, Sean Moriarty 0-1; Bernard Allen 0-1 (f), Peter Cunningham 1-0 (p), Niall McNamee 0-2.

Subs: Joe Maher 0-1 (f) for Allen (H/T), Niall Smith (for Gettings 44 mins), Anton Sullivan (for C.McNamee 47 mins), Nigel Bracken (for Moriarty 54 mins), Daithi Brady (for B.Darby 61 mins), Willie Mulhall (for Brazil 64 mins).

Referee: Jerome McHugh (Mayo)