22 Jan 2017 – Kildare 2-8 Dublin 0-16 (O’Byrne Cup SF, Newbridge)

Dual player Johnny Byrne
Dual player Johnny Byrne

O’Byrne Cup Semi Final :  KILDARE 2-8 DUBLIN 0-16

Whatever about the players’ mental health after a succumbing meekly to Dublin’s 3rd team, their supporters seem to be suffering a mental breakdown on social media tonight.

Cian O’Neill’s charges were on a hiding to nothing. Indeed the bookies had them as 1/4 favourites, ignoring the fact that Dublin had beaten a Wexford team that Kildare squeezed past in the summer.

Kildare had their college players back bringing them close to full strength and had home advantage. One national newspaper journalist spoke of their confidence being punctured if they lost this one. Whether that turns out to be the case remains to be seen. Indeed it’s hard to argue there’s much confidence there to begin with.

It’s easy to go overboard though at this time of year. I don’t recall Longford, for example, making much progress last summer, having beaten a stronger Dublin outfit last January than they had on display here. Closer to home, Kildare had false dawns when beating the Dubs in this competition in 2012 and 2013. Perspective is needed and this game will soon be forgotten if the Lilies go to Navan in two weeks time and win. Meath themselves are looking for the tyre repair kit after driving over a particularly sharp nail known as Louth this afternoon.

The pessimists will justly point to a second-half fade-out from Kildare for the second week in a row. Indeed the blowout started earlier as they only scored 4 points to Dublin’s 12 after Daniel Flynn’s scrappy 20th minute goal, at which stage they held a comfortable looking 2-4 to 0-4 lead. By half-time the Dubs had recovered to a two point deficit (2-4 to 0-8) and although Kildare started brightly enough in the second half, the Metropolitans penetrating running game proved too much for an over-run defence from then on.

The first half was very open with plenty of goal chances. Kildare looked bigger and for a while stronger than their visitors. Flynn and Ben McCormack threatened to have the beating of the Dublin inside backs and the enthusiastic Paul Cribbin’s pace on the wing was causing real problems for the Blues.

Niall Kelly, buzzing here there and everywhere as his good early season form continued, pointed within 15 seconds to get Kildare off the mark but Dublin were back level when their top forward Paul Hudson scored from play. Hudson gave new corner-back Mark Hyland a debut to forget alongside his brother David. The younger Athy brother was withdrawn at half-time.

Cribbin put Kildare a point ahead but they failed to take much advantage of their greater possession in those early stages and the dangerous Conor McHugh and Hudson (free) had the more clinical Dublin ahead by the 10th minute.

Up stepped wing back Johnny Byrne to put a pep in Kildare’s step. The Allenwood man fielded a Cribbin cross, evaded a challenge and buried a fine shot past Evan Comerford to put Kildare 1-2 to 0-3 ahead. Kildare fell asleep from the kick out though and not for the first time allowed Dublin to penetrate the full back line only for Ross Hazley to blast wide from close range.

Kildare’s best period followed with Cribbin and Kevin Feely from long range pointing with only Hudson from another free keeping Dublin in touch.  The Capital side could have goaled again though on 19 minutes when Mark Donnellan spread himself to make a fine save from the raiding Hudson as Dublin got inside once more.

Flynn, however, bundled home a second goal on 2o minutes, stabbing the ball home at the third attempt to put Kildare 6 points clear.

The ex Aussie Rules player could and perhaps should have had a second goal when he fisted home a mis-hit Fergal Conway shot on 28 minutes. Presumably this was ruled out for a square ball infringement although it wasn’t clear to the large crowd.

That proved crucial as Dublin upped their game in the run in to half-time and points by Shane Boland, Ciaran Reddin, Hudson and Jason Whelan brought the gap down to two.

Half Time: Kildare 2-4 Dublin 0-8

Ben McCormack has had a frustrating start to life as an inter-county senior. Scoreless despite plenty of opportunities against Offaly last week, he had a similar experience in the first half here. He is worth persevering with for his ability to win possession in the full forwad line. And we know from underage and club football that he can score. He gave an inkling of his potential when ending his scoring drought on the restart to edge Kildare three points clear.

Kelly then made it 2-6 to 0-8 and Kildare looked well capable of making it to the finish line ahead.

Wing back Niall Scully drove Dublin on though and popped over two fine long range points on 47 and 49 minutes. Sandwiched in between that the withdrawal of Cribbin, perhaps a tad prematurely if winning the game was a priority for O’Neill, seemed to impact Kildare badly. As did two poor kick outs from the otherwise excellent Donnellan.

Substitute and underage star Colm Basquel celebrated his introduction with a 51st minute score for Dublin.

Neil Flynn, struggling badly with his form this last week, managed to eke out two points on 52 and 53 minutes, the second a fine effort from play but that was the end of the scoring from the home side

Dublin took command at midfield while putting Kildare’s attack in a vice-like grip. Not that the home side helped themselves with some bad passing and worse decision-making. Skied balls kicked under pressure were the order of the day as the Kildare performance unravelled.

Meanwhile Dublin’s running game gradually over-powered an under-pressure home defence, despite the best efforts of the outstanding Eoin Doyle in particular. Hazley, Shane Cunningham and McHugh brought them to within a point of the wilting Lilies with three minutes left on the clock and there was only one winner likely.

Right on 70 minutes the excellent Scully ventured forward once more and slotted the lead point for Dublin. McHugh’s injury time free secured it after a black-card foul by Doyle. Fionn Dowling ballooned one wide for the home team while off-balance.

Positives?  Well Donnellan made some good saves, Mick O’Grady was solid, Eoin Doyle is in good form at centre back, Fergal Conway is working hard in an unnatural wing-forward position for him, and Niall Kelly is arguably over-performing for this time of year if that’s possible. He was not immune to the attacking malaise late on though.

Cribbin looked fit and well in an energetic performance after his injury troubles of last year. We won’t go into his shooting stats too deep though. Indeed Kildare’s wides were into double figures again. Dowling gave an effective midfield performance at times although faded after the break. His passing ability brings a new dimension to the central area and his fielding is another plus in the era of the mark.

Both Flynns had a frustrating afternoon ultimately and the experiment of playing Daniel at no.14 was inconclusive. He would probably be better carrying the ball at pace from deeper positions.

The full back line struggled to contain Hudson and McHugh in particular. Whether Hyland the elder is strong enough for full back is questionable. And Doyle needed more help on the half-back line when Dublin got a run on them in the second half in particular.

Kildare’s mental state is probably of bigger concern than their form despite this being a glorified pre-season friendly. Certainly those supporters who dubbed it “pathetic” and worse online seem to have lost all faith. Let’s judge as the competitive season unfolds although the omens remain poor.

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