KILDARE 3-10 LIMERICK 2-7
Kildare secured their future in Division 2, relegating Limerick and Clare in the process, as they overcame a stern second half examination from the Treaty men in the TUS Gaelic Grounds on Sunday afternoon.
Without a goal in over a year in League football, the Lilywhites fashioned three of them drizzly, murky conditions on a heavy pitch, but their defensive brittleness was also on show in a nervous second half when Limerick twice reduced the gap to three points with goals of their own.
But Kildare survived, deservedly so on the balance of play, having reduced the error count from that arduous visit to Ardee two weeks previously. Not perfect but it was better.
Whether they have done enough in this league to qualify for the Sam Maguire Cup will only be known once the provincial finalists are decided at the end of April, but a home win against Meath before the bulldozers roll into St Conleth’s Park next week would go a long way to achieving that aim.
Kildare, with five changes from two weeks ago, looked comfortable enough in the first half against a Limerick side clearly low on confidence after the own difficult campaign. There was no new manager bounce from the Treaty men as the Lilywhites opened up a four point lead inside the opening quarter with points from Barry Coffey, Darragh Kirwan (2) and a Paddy Woodgate free.
Fouls by Mick O’Grady and Kevin Flynn provided the home side with the opportunity to halve the gap with two frees, the second a fine effort from 53 metres by James Naughton, but with fourteen or even fifteen behind the ball and Limerick showing little penetration, Kildare looked in control.
After 21 minutes the goal drought finally ended, and it was defender Kevin Flynn who coolly showed the forwards the way with a calm finish after Kirwan’s through pass was offloaded by Woodgate to the Celbridge man.
Four minutes later, after Colm McSweeney’s point for Limerick, Kirwan might have added a second goal, but his low effort was well saved by Donal O’Sullivan with his feet. Ben McCormack gathered and pointed from the loose ball.
Cillian Fahy narrowed the gap for Limerick from a mark before Neil Flynn took advantage of a quick free from Woodgate and offload by substitute Daniel Flynn to send his side in 1-6 to 0-4 ahead at the break.
Limerick seemed to flick a switch at half-time and saw the benefit of running more directly at the Kildare defence after the break. Slowly they crawled back into it. But they took a long time to make inroads on the scoreboard with only Barry Coleman’s point to show for their renewed vigour in the opening twenty minutes of the half.
Kildare replied to that point with scores from defenders Kevin Flynn and David Hyland but in between those Limerick served notice of the threat that was brewing with two goal chances, though neither were converted.
First Kevin O’Callaghan, hard-working as ever, dived to save a Peter Nash goalbound effort and a minute later Naughton chipped Mark Donnellan but was well wide.
But Naughton was more accurate with twenty minutes left when drilling past Donnellan to make it 1-5 to 1-8.
Game on it seemed but within a minute Kirwan’s pass across goal was palmed to the net by substitute Jack Robinson and the Lilywhites could breath again. For now.
Naughton narrowed the gap to five with a fine point under pressure in the 64th minute but when Daniel Flynn set up Kirwan for a Kildare reply two minutes later it looked as if Glenn Ryan’s side might coast home.
It’s rarely that easy for the men in white, though, and two minutes from time, Robbie Bourke flashed a ball across the goalmouth and Fahy diverted it past Donnellan.
That made it 2-6 to 2-9 and put Kildare hearts in mouths but an audacious and typical Daniel Flynn run along the sideline set up Paul Cribbin to drive at the Limerick goal with four minutes of injury time, drawing the foul for Robinson to tap over a close range free.
Brian Donovan replied for Limerick to make it a three-point game once more, but Kildare broke through the heart of the Treaty defence once more and having seemingly failed to take possession, partly due to a defender handling on the ground, Naas man Kirwan impudently back-heeled past the advancing O’Sullivan for the clinching third goal.
The St Conleth’s Park farewell next week will thankfully be a much less wrought occasion with Kildare aiming to overtake Meath and finish a difficult campaign in 5th spot.
KILDARE: Mark Donnellan; Mick O’Grady, Shea Ryan, Ryan Houlihan; David Hyland 0-1, Kevin Flynn 1-1, Jack Sargent; Aaron Masterson, Kevin O’Callaghan; Barry Coffey 0-1, Ben McCormack 0-1, Alex Beirne; Neil Flynn 0-1, Darragh Kirwan 1-3, Paddy Woodgate 0-1 (f). Subs: Daniel Flynn for McCormack 30, Jack Robinson 1-1 for N Flynn 51, Paul Cribbin for Beirne 55, Paddy McDermott for Coffey 63, Eoin Doyle for Woodgate 71.
LIMERICK: Donal O’Sullivan; Michael Donovan, Sean O’Dea, Brian Fanning; Barry Coleman 0-1, Colm McSweeney 0-1, Tony McCarthy; Cathal Downes, Cillian Fahy 1-1 (0-1m); Paul Maher, James Naughton 1-3 (2fs), Cian Sheehan; Killian Ryan, Brian Donovan 0-1, Hugh Bourke.
Subs: Adrian Enright for Ryan 35, Gordon Brown for McCarthy HT, Peter Nash for Downes 42, Robbie Bourke for Coleman 55, Davy Lyons for H Bourke 66.
Referee: John Ryan (Cork)