Westmeath 0-11 Kildare 2-9
Welcome, Cian. To Management. To Division 3. And welcome back to an all-too familiar Kildare.
The wind was the enemy in Mullingar. And while Westmeath used it to take full advantage of John Heslin’s prodigious long-range free-taking in the first-half, it seemed to present both teams with an unfathomable conundrum after the break. As the midlanders ran down increasingly blind alleys the visitors seemed perplexed by their inability to connect a yawning chasm between their half back and half forward lines or to create anything like the number of chances a team with the elements in their favour should have produced.
If anything Westmeath were unfortunate not to win this and it may prove crucial when the divisional spoils are handed out in April. The Lake County were dominant at midfield and had Kildare under a lot of pressure for good spells of the game.
Crucially, though, the Lilywhites produced the two moments of inspiration in a game that was well contested but of low quality. Division 3 does not lie. Kildare will struggle to produce two goals of the quality of Daniel Flynn and Cian O’Donoghue’s first half strikes again this season. Those green flags could have been less conclusive had Callum McCormack not spurned the home side’s best chance of a goal in the 13th minute when a combination of Mark Donnellan and Peter Kelly thwarted the inside forward, Kelly clearing off the goal line for a ’45.
The early exchanges had been dominated by free-taking with Heslin and Kildare’s Adam Tyrell to the fore and it was 0-3 apiece at the time of McCormack’s miss. Kildare gave fewer frees away in their full back line than we have become accustomed to but Heslin was punishing them from outside the ’45 with the gale at this back.
Kildare’s crucial scores came in the 20th and 26th minutes. First Flynn picked up the ball just inside his own half and took off on the sort of run that is becoming his trademark, direct through the Westmeath defence. He eventually took one last side-step and rifled home from around the 13 metre line. Kildare led by 1-3 to 0-4.
Six minutes later and Westmeath had moved back ahead – 0-7 to 1-3. But they were sucker-punched once more as substitute O’Donoghue (on for the injured Ciaran Fitzpatrick), played a one-two with the excellent Niall Kelly, and burned the Westmeath defence with a direct run on goal. Casting aside a poor miss a short while earlier the Clane man finished to the net with aplomb. Kildare ahead 2-3 to 0-7.
It took Kildare’s forward line 31 minutes to score from play but with their confidence up and their direct running causing Westmeath’s defence palpitations, Cathal McNally got off the mark and the classy Kelly added two more as the visitors moved into the driving seat. A Kieran Martin free was Westmeath’s only response as they went in at the break 0-8 to 2-6 behind.
Kildare seemed reluctant to re-emerge from the inviting warmth of the dressing room after the break and when they did they found Westmeath full of running against the wind. With the Lake County winning all the breaks around midfield and the impressive Paul Sharry driving Westmeath forward, Kildare’s defence had to stand firm. And in general they shut up shop effectively and with discipline – not always something we’d accuse them of around here.
In truth though their opponents did themselves no favours by not backing themselves to shoot more often when the opportunity arose. With the amount of possession they had a three point return in the second-half was sub-standard – wind or no wind.
Kildare also only registered a trio of second-half points. Westmeath had narrowed the gap to three by the time McNally and the out-of-sorts Paul Cribbin found the range. They struggled to find a way out of their half for long periods and attempts at diagonal kick passes that might work a treat in the summer invariably beat a frustrated forward to the boundary on too many occasions.
Westmeath kept plugging away and set up a nervy last seven minutes when frees from Heslin and Martin brought the gap down to three points and a combination of dogged defending by the visitors and unforced errors by the home side allowed Kildare to slip off the hook.
The final act fell to Kelly. Mark Sherry fetched a high ball close to goal and fed the Athy man to score his third point and see Kildare home.
O’Neill will realise he has an awful lot to work on. And it was a tough introduction to competitive senior football for the likes of Tyrell, Neil Flynn and Eanna O’Connor. But a win on the road against one of their chief rivals for promotion, without conceding a goal… I think he’ll take that. Offaly won as well, setting up a nice derby clash in St.Conleth’s Park next Sunday.
Kildare Line-Up, Scorers and Ratings:
- Mark Donnellan (Maynooth) 6
- Peter Kelly (Two Mile House) 7
- Ciaran Fitzpatrick (Kilcock) 6 sub 14 mins: Cian O’Donoghue (Clane) 7 (1-0)
- Ollie Lyons (Celbridge) 6
- Johnny Byrne (Allenwood) 6
- Fergal Conway (Celbridge) 6
- David Hyland (Athy) 7
- Daryl Flynn (Moorefield) 6 sub H/T: Eanna O’Connor (Moorefield) 6
- Daniel Flynn (Johnstownbridge) 7 (1-0)
- Adam Tyrell (Moorefield) 6 (0-3, 3f) sub 54 mins: Padraig O’Neill (St. Laurence’s) 6
- Eoghan O’Flaherty (Carbury) 6 sub 51 mins: Eamon Callaghan (Naas) 6
- Paul Cribbin (Johnstownbridge) 5 (0-1)
- Neil Flynn (Maynooth) 5 sub 64 mins: Mark Sherry (Two Mile House)
- Niall Kelly (Athy) 7 (0-3)
- Cathal McNally (Johnstownbridge) 6 (0-2)
Westmeath: Darren Quinn; John Gonoud, Alan Stone, Kevin Maguire; David Lynch, Paddy Holloway, James Dolan; Dennis Corroon, Shane Flanagan; Ger Egan, Paul Sharry, Kieran Martin (0-4,3f); Callum McCormack (0-1), John Heslin ((0-6, 6f), Shane Dempsey.
Subs: Ray Connellan (for Flanagan H/T), John Egan (for Dempsey H/T), Daragh Daly (for McCormack 52), Killian Daly (for Stone 70)
Referee: Noel Mooney (Cavan)