A disappointing Kildare outfit suffered their first home defeat under Glenn Ryan’s management at St Conleth’s Park on Saturday afternoon as Mickey Harte’s Louth deservedly came away with a second O’Byrne Cup win in four days.

Kildare handed debuts to Ronan Fitzsimons (Leixlip) and Matthew Kelly (Towers) in the half-back line and there were first starts for Brendan Gibbons and Cein McMonagle after substitute appearances on Wednesday while captain Mick O’Grady made his 100th appearance in all competitions.

For those who played against Wexford, the step up to Division 2 opposition was a steep one and perhaps something of a reality check for team and management. Make no mistake, Louth looked fitter, hungrier, and more in tune tactically than their opponents and will be doughty opponents when the sides meet again in Ardee during the league.

That said, it should be a very different looking Kildare side that lines up for the league opener against Dublin in three weeks’ time. Ryan confirmed that the likes of Ben McCormack, Daniel Flynn and Eoin Doyle are training away but a little way behind those that lined up in Conleth’s.

Both teams set up with men behind the ball with wing forwards Paul Cribbin and McMonagle spending most of their time sweeping in the half-back line leaving Barry Coffey to hold the centre-forward position. The Sarsfields man struggled to get time and space on the ball with Kildare struggling to feed their full-forward line all afternoon.

After an impeccably observed minute’s silence to mark last week’s passing of two of the 1956 Leinster winning team, Jim Clarke and Miko Doyle, Kildare settled quickest. Aaron O’Neill nailed a 47-metre free after Fitzsimons was fouled before two fine long-range scores from McMonagle sandwiched another from Darragh Kirwan.

Louth, beaten by 16 points in the Championship by their opponents, came right back into it and shot the next six points in a fourteen-minute spell which saw an overlapping half-back line and some quick hand-passing open up the Kildare defence.

Sam Mulroy shot four of those half-dozen points from frees and Conor Grimes and Paul Matthews registered the other two from play during that spell with Kildare seemingly unable to keep pace with the increased tempo.

O’Neill stroked over a ’45 from near the terrace sideline to get Kildare back on the board but Louth’s hard-running style created two more points from play for centre-back Ciaran Murphy and Daire McConnon to go in 0-8 to 0-5 ahead at the break.

The half-time introduction of Jack Robinson and Aaron Masterson boosted Kildare and Robinson, fresh from his six points against Wexford, made an immediate impact, creating and finishing his own score straight from the throw-in.

When Jimmy Hyland added his first of the day shortly afterwards from a free he had won himself, things were looking up for the home side. Both Hyland and Paddy Woodgate had disappointing afternoons with the latter pulling a crucial 20-metre free wide in the latter stages, ending scoreless despite a hard-working display.

Louth, though, weren’t going to allow their hard work go to waste and they re-asserted themselves with four points in a row against an increasingly-loose Kildare backline. Ciaran Byrne, Daire McConnon, Leonard Gray and Shane Matthews all scored from play to push them five points clear (0-12 to 0-7).

Kildare squandered a glorious goal chance when Hyland set up Coffey after Louth goalkeeper Declan Byrne’s handpass went astray, his shot coming back off the inside of the post to cap a frustrating second start for the Sarsfields man.

Kildare did put a spurt on in the final fifteen minutes and they got their lifeline, somewhat fortuitously perhaps on 55 minutes when a long hand-passing movement ended with O’Grady’s first shot for goal blocked but his second attempt ended up in the net off a Louth defender under pressure from Michael Joyce.

Substitute Jay Hughes and Cribbin exchanged points before Hughes from a ’45 put Louth three clear three minutes from time. Kildare kept pushing and edged to within a point through a Hyland free and Robinson’s second score, brilliantly taken after retrieving a high ball from Masterson, but with only two minutes of injury time played by referee Andrew Smith, they ran out of time.

KILDARE: Aaron O’Neill 0-2 (1f, 1×45); Mick O’Grady, Michael Joyce, Darragh Malone; Tony Archbold, Ronan Fitzsimons, Matthew Kelly; Brendan Gibbons, Alex Beirne; Paul Cribbin 0-1, Barry Coffey, Cein McMonagle 0-2; Jimmy Hyland 0-2 (2fs), Darragh Kirwan 0-1, Paddy Woodgate. SUBS: Jack Robinson 0-2 for Kirwan HT, Aaron Masterson for Beirne HT, Neil Flynn for Coffey 51, Rian Teehan for McMonagle 55.

LOUTH: Declan Byrne; Dan Corcoran, Peter Lynch, Alan Connor; Leonard Gray 0-1, Ciaran Murphy 0-1, Conall McKeever; Conor Earley, Ciaran Byrne 0-1; Paul Matthews 0-1, Conal McCaul, Shane Matthews 0-1; Daire McConnon 0-2, Sam Mulroy 0-4 (4fs), Conor Grimes 0-1. SUBS: Jonathan Commins for McCaul 51, Jay Hughes 0-2 (1’45) for Mulroy 51, Peter McStravick for McConnon 51, Gerard Browne for Connor 55, Tom Gray for S Matthews 55.

REFEREE: Andrew Smith (Meath)

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