KILDARE 0-13 MEATH 0-8
Kildare footballers produced their most convincing performance of a disappointing Allianz Football League Division 2 campaign to give St Conleth’s Park a fitting send-off as it closes for around eighteen months for redevelopment.
While this was a dead rubber in relation to the League with Kildare’s relegation fears removed by last week’s win in Limerick, it was a win that saw them leap-frog Meath into fifth spot in the table and with the qualification for the Sam Maguire Cup a convoluted affair, today’s result may yet prove the difference between qualifying or not for the Tier 1 All Ireland Championship.
Kildare, whose route to the Leinster Final sees Dublin blocking their path at the semi-final stage, were clearly the better, more aggressive team on the day, their defence restricting a very poor Meath side to just two points from play, while midfielders Kevin O’Callaghan and Aaron Masterson gave the side a platform with outstanding displays.
Up front, Darragh Kirwan tormented Meath full-back Michael Flood, who was withdrawn at the interval, weighing in with five excellent points as he carried his good form forward from the Limerick encounter.
Kildare had more bite from the throw-in and fine points from David Hyland, celebrating his 100th competitive appearance, and Kirwan were sandwiched by two frees from Paddy Woodgate as the Lilywhites went four points ahead inside the first fifteen minutes.
It took Meath twenty-one minutes to open their account through a long-range Jack Flynn free, but Kildare continued in the ascendancy in the run-up to half-time with the unplayable Kirwan bringing his tally to three from play and Jack Robinson ably supporting him with a brilliantly taken mark and a free.
Meath, with wind advantage, replied with their two points from play, from Ronan Jones and Cillian O’Sullivan to go in trailing 0-3 to 0-8.
Kildare’s attack had impressed in the first half, but a low quality second period saw the defence earn their spurs, regularly stripping Meath men of possession or intercepting passes into the inside line. Captain Mick O’Grady led by example in that regard as Kildare.
By the 54th minute the home side had stretched their lead to seven points (12-5) with a sublime free from the sideline by Robinson, two from play from lively substitute Paul Cribbin and Kirwan and a free from another sub, Jimmy Hyland, returning from injury. Meath had only managed two Donal Lenihan frees in reply.
But, just as they had done in this fixture two years previously when promotion was on the line under Jack O’Connor, Kildare almost allowed Meath a route back into it. Their forward play disintegrated, Mark Donnellan twice coughed up kick-outs when penalised for taking too long, and Meath started to see more of the ball.
Thankfully the Royals were unable to fashion a score from play, but they did cause a few hearts to skip a beat among the locals when a free from Matthew Costello and two from Lenihan brought the gap down to four points a minute into injury time.
A minute later, though, an appreciative home crowd saw Kirwan swing over a fine free from the right-hand side to end eighteen barren minutes.
The final whistle was the signal for a celebratory pitch invasion and a few tufts of grass may have been harvested from the old sod before the gates were shut on the historic ground for the foreseeable future.
Despite two wins to finish off their League campaign, Kildare will know that they still have a lot of improving to do, but their Royal neighbours seem to have deeper concerns if the poverty of their play today is anything to go by.
KILDARE: Mark Donnellan; Mick O’Grady, Shea Ryan, Ryan Houlihan; David Hyland 0-1, Kevin Flynn, Jack Sargent; Aaron Masterson, Kevin O’Callaghan; Barry Coffey, Ben McCormack, Alex Beirne; Jack Robinson 0-3 (2fs, 1m), Darragh Kirwan 0-5 (1f), Paddy Woodgate 0-2 (2fs). Subs: Paul Cribbin 0-1 for Beirne HT, Daniel Flynn for Robinson 50, Jimmy Hyland 0-1 (f) for Woodgate 50, Kevin Feely for Masterson 53, Paddy McDermott for Coffey 64.
MEATH: Harry Hogan; Adam O’Neill, Michael Flood, Harry O’Higgins; Ross Ryan, Padraic Harnan, Eoin Harkin; Ronan Jones 0-1, Jack Flynn 0-1 (f); Daithi McGowan, Matthew Costello 0-1 (f), Jason Scully; Aaron Lynch, Diarmuid Moriarty, Cillian O’Sullivan 0-1. Subs: Donal Lenihan 0-4 (4fs) for Lynch 29, Cathal Hickey for Harkin 32, Jack O’Connor for Flood HT, Thomas O’Reilly for O’Sullivan 47, Keith Curtis for Moriarty 60.Referee: John Gilmartin (Sligo)