Kildare 0-18 Tyrone 1-16 (NFL Div 1, Newbridge, 11 February 2018)
Let’s get the same old failings out of the way first.
Because however unfathomable the referee’s amnesia regarding the advantage rule may have been, however frustrating, Kildare players can look no further than themselves. The old failings.
Missed opportunities at crucial times. Weakness in the back line coughing up a goal when all was going swimmingly. Kick outs going awry. Lateral movement.
And management not without blame again either. How no one on the line can see the gaping defensive holes that even one extra body might help to shore up remains the great mystery of Cian O’Neill’s reign.
Not asking to revert to “doing a Wexford”, but surely if you relocated the energy and workrate of Fergal Conway to his more natural setting in front of a sweeping Eoin Doyle, who in turn protects the willing but not-so-strapping David Hyland at full back, you might not suffer waves of opposition forwards marauding through without barely suffering a scrape?
And yet this was better. A second one point home defeat to Ulster opposition, but Kildare are proving competitive now. This one they could have won. Their scoring rate went up, even if the early promise dissipated somewhat as the reliance on Tyrone fouls and Kevin Feely frees ramped up. Defensively in the first half, Kildare were resilient, controlled, dominant actually.
But a wily Tyrone gradually pushed them back, wore them down, and then the nerves kicked in and good scoring chances were squandered, crucial ones, that ultimately proved their undoing.
When will this team learn to win a tight game?
Worryingly it’s now seven defeats in a row. Who’d have thought that glorious balmy evening in Tullamore last June that we’d be in this place seven games later?
And it doesn’t get any easier. Donegal next in Ballyshannon. The Tir Conaill men also with a duck egg on the table. But very competitive in all three games and impressively so in the second-half against Dublin.
Some will write Kildare off after another defeat and it does seem as though Division Two football beckons again next winter. But four points could yet be enough to stay up with five teams still on 2 points or less. But clearly a win in Donegal in two weeks is now a given to retain any hope. With the same attitude and aptitude as today they can give a right go.
O’Neill couldn’t have asked for a better start. Feely batted down the throw-in to Daniel Flynn and he opened the pistons to surge through a Tyrone defence caught cold in the sudden snowstorm that engulfed the old ground. Feely eased over the first of nine points from frees.
For a team on zero points Kildare were confident and controlled in the opening minutes. Fergal Conway soon burst through a tackle to fire over from the right hand side and then Ben McCormack swung in a beauty from the opposite side.
In the meantime the defence had smothered a couple of Red Hand attacks with Eoin Doyle making one brilliant block. The pace of movement out of defence also augured well as Tyrone struggled for traction.
Conway danced his way through another couple of un-Tyrone like tackles to fire over a fourth point without reply. This must have been how Dublin felt when the Northerners failed to turn up for the All Ireland semi-final.
A clothesline tackle from Conway seemed to spur Tyrone into action finally and their talismanic centre-forward Niall Sludden finally got them off the mark with a point from play on 12 minutes.
But a fine passing movement ended with a marauding Peter Kelly popping up in nosebleed territory and with no one around demanding a pass the Two Mile House man converted with quite a level of aplomb for a man who’d “racked up” the grand sum of two points in his previous 65 senior appearances.
Tyrone’s engine was cranking into gear though and Doyle was forced into a “professional foul” in front of the goal to halt a Padraig McNulty run. Lee Brennan converted the free. Tiarnan McCann then swung one over to take advantage of Feely losing possession after Kildare had swallowed up Brennan in a Tyrone-like swarm.
Kildare were getting wasteful now, allowing Tyrone to stay in close proximity. Flynn dropped one into Niall Morgan’s hands before Feely swung a left-footed effort off the upright, although the latter was by no means a “gimme”.
An off-the-ball tug by Mick O’Grady handed Brennan another opportunity to pop over a free from in front of the posts and Kildare’s controlled start was starting to unravel as they reverted to type somewhat.
Despite dominating possession Kildare were only a point ahead mid-way through the half: 0-5 to 0-4.
They recovered the upper hand though, which was encouraging. Feely punished a soft free conceded by Tyrone and then Mark Donnellan stepped up to slice the posts with a ’45 as Kildare went three ahead again. The energetic Paul Cribbin then made it double scores with a wonderful score from 40 metres.
Cribbin summed up the best and worst of this Kildare team a minute later however. Tyrone were struggling to make any headway against a resolute home defence and Cribbin was on hand to put an end to another attack from the Ulstermen. Inexplicably though he ran across his own goal from the corner back position. McNulty was on hand to dispossess the wing forward and Sludden had an easy point.
Then the key moment of the match. And sadly Kildare’s underlying problems in the full back line were back in focus despite a fine opening 27 minutes. Cathal McShane swung in a hopeful ball towards the square.
Kildare had men back but O’Grady allowed Connor McAliskey to get a touch to it and David Hyland was unable to stop Brennan stealing in behind him to slot a low shot past Donnellan. After all that hard work and dominance it was level pegging at 0-8 to 1-5. And in a manner far too similar to Dublin’s goals a fortnight earlier.
Feely edged Kildare back in front with a close-range free but their attacks were becoming more sporadic and Tyrone clicked into top gear in the last few minutes of the half to go in ahead by 1-8 to 0-10. Morgan scored a long-range free before Kildare had a huge let-off when Donnellan’s kick-out went straight to McAliskey. To Donnellan’s relief he kicked over with the goal at his mercy.
A relatively quiet Peter Harte then got out ahead of Kelly to play in Sludden for a point before Kildare hit back with a fine left-footed point from play.
Kildare lost McCormack to a back injury at half-time which gave Jimmy Hyland an opportunity.
The home side were level soon after the restart with a Niall Kelly beauty off the outside of his boot.
The game would ebb and flow from here to the end. McShane swung over Tyrone’s reply although Donnellan might feel he could have prevented it going over off his palms.
Kildare were back level when Flynn took a Conway pass and blasted over from close range to put Kildare back in front. Possible goal chance and those were like hens’ teeth for the home side.
It had been a good reaction to Tyrone’s goal. But the Northerners were looking marginally the more fluid side and McNulty shot them ahead again from long-range with little pressure applied. This was to become a familiar pattern as the tight-marking of the first-half by the Kildare became a distant memory.
A foul by Feely on Mattie Donnelly presented Brennan with the chance to push Tyrone two ahead as Tyrone made hay with some direct running on the counter-attack.
Jimmy Hyland’s first involvement saw him win a free which Feely converted, although a goal chance could have been on if Hyland had managed to offload to Doyle inside him.
O’Grady’s foul on McShane allowed McAliskey to push Tyrone two ahead again though.
David Hyland then popped up at full forward to win a free after a ponderous Kildare move ended with a Feely through ball. Feely was on target once more with the free. 0-14 to 1-12 with 47 minutes gone.
Then the first of referee Paddy Neilan’s “advantage” blinds-spots. The hard-working Conway slipped Flynn through but it was called back for a free. Granted Feely levelled with the free but a goal might have been on for Flynn.
Sub Darren McCurry was soon swinging over a trademark point for the visitors who were still finding scores easier to come by.
The frees kept ticking over for Kildare though. Cian O’Donoghue, enjoying arguably his best outing in a senior jersey, won this one and Feely was not found wanting from range. He had seemingly put the Monaghan nightmare behind him although there would be one nasty sting in the tale. Kildare were level again with 15 minutes to play.
O’Donoghue demonstrated his potential with a wonderful catch from a Tyrone kick out and having then received a return pass from sub Chris Healy, the Clane man thumped over a beautiful point from long range. Was this the day the worm was turning for this group of players?
Sadly, but typically, Kildare failed to win the next kick-out and instead allowed Donnelly to stride forward to level it up once more.
Young Hyland snatched at a chance straight afterwards, the sort of chance you really have to be taking at this level.
Flynn then did similar. Familiar failings.
McShane showed them how to do it, ending 8 minutes without any score to put the Tyrone men ahead again. Once more the absence of a challenge on the kicker was hugely significant.
Harte swung a free wide from a difficult position near the sideline to keep Kildare hopes high.
With three minutes left Michael McKernan handled on the ground under pressure from Healy to give Kildare a lifeline. Feely backed himself once more from about 23 metres to the left of the ‘D’ but on this crucial occasion his execution was poor and it dropped into the grateful hands of Morgan.
Call it ‘bottle’, ‘nerve’, or whatever, but Kildare fail to take these chances far too often to thrive at the top level. That might sound harsh on a day when the midfielder scored 9 points, but this was the critical one that just had to go over. The top teams just don’t miss those.
Into the last minute of normal time and Luke Flynn presented the home team with another chance to equalise from a place ball, earning a free 40 metres out in front of the goal. Again though Kildare might have argued that they still had possession and the AWOL advantage rule might have come into play.
Donnellan came forward to take this one, which was the logical choice. Unfortunately this one went abegging as well as the Maynooth man pulled it badly left and wide.
With five minutes of injury time announced though, the home crowd were not without hope.
And sure enough, Kildare did pull level with Feely this time nailing an easier free-kick after a brave run from Healy.
A point was of little use to either side after two defeats though and both were clearly still going for the win.
The final moments took on a familiar complexion to those who had seen the Monaghan match last week as Kildare’s somewhat frantic attacks ran aground.
With 75 minutes on the clock, Tyrone’s Donnelly edged forward on the left-hand side and brushed aside a tired challenge from Feely before swinging his left leg at it from distance. There was only one place it was going. No question about it. Tyrone had snatched it again, just as they did in 2014. Although without quite the same drama.
Still time for controversy as Neilan again denied Kildare a clear-cut opportunity to equalise. Flynn was fouled as he found Healy cutting in off the sideline 21 metres out. Of course the whistle-happy Roscommon man pulled it back for a Kildare free some 40 metres further out the field. Chance gone. Game over.
O’Neill was clearly furious afterwards and he had every right to be.
Mark Donnellan – 5 – Too slow on kick outs at times leading to frustration for the runners. Gifted a point to McAliskey which could have been a goal. Snatched at late chance from scoreable free.
Peter Kelly – 6 – A lively outing and a more expansive one than usual. Sauntered forward for a rare point.
David Hyland – 6 – Hard to criticise when you firmly believe he is playing out of position at full back where every mistake is magnified. Carried the ball well and popped up at full forward to win a free-in. But defensive frailty led directly to a goal once more.
Mick O’Grady – 6 – very similar to Hyland. One magnificent catch near the end and had a good game generally but beaten too easily by McAliskey for the goal.
Johnny Byrne – 6 – Solid. Unspectacular. But could Kildare use some more pace here?
Eoin Doyle – 7 – strong performance from the skipper. Some timely blocks and interceptions but once more seems to be playing in no-man’s land between sweeper and centre-back. That’s on the management. Needs help from either Conway or maybe Luke Flynn.
Cian O’Donoghue – 7 – Much more confident and impactful performance from the Clane man, benefitting from a run in the team. Great catch and point in second-half.
Kevin Feely – 7 – Put nightmare of his free-taking against Monaghan behind him and scored nine points which is not to be sneezed at (8 from frees). But that late miss…
Tommy Moolick – 7 – Worked really hard in the first-half and helped to lay the platform before being withdrawn.
Fergal Conway – 8 – back towards his best form here and probably Kildare’s best performer. Two excellent points and worked ferociously all through.
Niall Kelly – 6 – Decent show, one excellent point. Perhaps a little unlucky to be withdrawn?
Paul Cribbin – 6 – Still drifting in and out of games. One marvellous point and a good first-half in particular. Less impact after the break.
Ben McCormack – 6 – glimpses once more of his talent and another who found the range with one great score. In and out of it but somewhat isolated.
Daniel Flynn – 6 – flitted in and out. Fine start setting up opening score but peripheral for long spells. One good point but one bad miss also.
Paddy Brophy – 6 – didn’t stay in the corner, operating instead much deeper. Got on some good ball in the first half but not very impactful. Would prefer to see him closer to goal.
Jimmy Hyland 6 – very raw at this level. Won one good free and lifted crowd with a great steal at midfield. Missed a good chance though.
Luke Flynn 6 – found it tough to influence much after his introduction.
Chris Healy – 6 – did quite well, won a free and might have been in for a late equaliser but for the missing advantage rule.
Keith Cribbin, Cathal McNally – N/A – both on late and neither impactful.
Scorers for Kildare: Kevin Feely (8f) 0-9, F Conway 0-2, M Donnellan (’45), P Cribbin, C O’Donoghue, P Kelly, B McCormack, D Flynn and N Kelly 0-1 each
Kildare Line Up:
|9||Tommy Moolick||Luke Flynn (47)|
|10||Fergal Conway||Keith Cribbin (61)|
|11||Niall Kelly||Chris Healy (55)|
|13||Ben McCormack||Jimmy Hyland (HT)|
|15||Paddy Brophy||Cathal McNally (65)|