Kildare’s minor footballers kicked off their Electric Ireland Leinster Championship campaign with a seven-point win over a battling Offaly side in Hawkfield last Wednesday night.

Niall Cronin’s side showed good attacking qualities at times, but it was a patchy performance and Offaly managed to recover from a ten-point first half deficit and the dismissal of centre-back Enda McLoughlin to reel Kildare’s lead back in to two points midway through the second half. That will be a concern.

Kildare kicked on again in the final quarter, though, and their third goal from substitute Jack McCabe helped to ease them across the finish line.

Allenwood’s Joey Cunningham was the star turn for Cronin’s side, weighing in with nine points, five of them from play. The centre-forward, who was part of the side which reached last year’s provincial final, gave a devastating performance of pacey, direct forward play, with the finishing power to match, as well as setting up Jack McCabe’s clinching goal.

Others to impress were Michael Chambers and Colm Moran in defence, captain Ben Ryan in midfield and Tadhg Donlan, Evan Donnelly, and Harry Redmond in attack while McCabe and Liam O’Connor made a good impact from the bench.

Kildare started nervously, but Cunningham settled them with their first five points and when Tadhg Donlan and Cian Keaveny bagged two goals in the space of six minutes midway through the opening half it helped them into a comfortable 2-7 to 0-3 lead.

Offaly roared back towards the end of the half, though, and four minutes from the interval a quick free from lively full-forward Kaelem Bryan sent Robert Carney through on goal and from his offload midfielder Cillian Bourke fired to Cathal Moore’s net.

Cunningham’s sixth point sent Kildare into the break still ahead by six points (2-8 to 1-5) but Offaly had the better of the third quarter despite McLoughlin’s 39th minute sending off for a second yellow card.

Kildare only had one point to show during that spell, a superb 45-metre free from goalkeeper Moore, but after points from the two Carney’s, Robert and Fionn, the Faithful County hit back with a second goal just four minutes after losing McLoughlin.

It was a poor score for Kildare to concede, a pass out of defence being intercepted and ‘keeper Moore unable to keep out Bourke’s shot for his second goal despite getting a hand to it.

That made it 2-9 to 2-7 but Kildare kicked on again from there. Two more Cunningham points and a fine one from Redmond from a tight angle gave them breathing space and when O’Connor made a fine catch and sent Cunningham sprinting towards goal, he set up McCabe to flick home past Donnacha Keoghan in the Offaly goal.

Cunningham, O’Connor, and McCabe added further scores with Offaly replying through Robert Carney, Christian McKeon and Craig Weldon as Kildare ran out deserving winners.  

Kildare next go to Longford tonight (Tuesday); their opponents having suffered a heavy opening round defeat to Laois and with the group winners going straight through to the semi-final there’s every incentive for them to rack up winner number two.

KILDARE: Cathal Moore (Sarsfields) 0-1 (f); Liam Kelly (Milltown), Rob Murray (Naas), Michael Chambers (Maynooth); James Donnelly (St Laurence’s), Senan Murphy (St Laurence’s), Colm Moran (Athy); Evan Boyle (Carbury), Ben Ryan (Round Towers); Donnchadh Kinch (Castledermot), Joey Cunningham (Allenwood) 0-9 (4fs), Tadhg Donlan (Round Towers) 1-0; Cian Keaveny (Athy) 1-0, Evan Donnelly (Ellistown) 0-1, Harry Redmond (Sarsfields) 0-2. Subs: Jack McCabe (Castlemitchell) 1-1 for Keaveny 37, Aodán Jordan (Confey) for Kelly 47, Liam O’Connor 0-1 for Boyle 50, Dara Cooke (Raheens) for Kinch 56, Ruaidhrí Lawlor (St Laurence’s) for Murray 56.

OFFALY: Donncha Keoghan; Rory Grehan 0-1, Patrick Kenna, Harry Goulding; Christian McKeon 0-1, Enda McLoughlin, Brian Carroll 0-1; Cillian Bourke 2-0, Mark Mulrooney; Cameron Egan, Robert Carney 0-2 (1f), Cillian Foran; Dara Bates, Kaelem Bryan 0-1, Fionn Carey 0-4 (4fs). Subs: Cian Bracken for Bates 27, Harry Grant for Mulrooney 50, Nicky Geoghegan for Grehan 56, Craig Weldon 0-1 (m) for F Carney 59, Callum Kelly for R Carney 63.

Referee: Stephen Fagan (Wicklow).

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