A large crowd were left in a state of perplexed disgruntlement at St Conleth’s Park on Sunday afternoon as an abject Kildare went down to a truly shocking thirteen-point defeat to Cork in the Allianz National Football League Division Two.

Let’s get the statistics out of the way first. This was the biggest defeat Kildare have suffered in any competition in their dilapidated home ground since November 1976. Cork were also the recipients of Kildare’s generosity on that occasion.

Seven points was the lowest scored by the home team for twenty-one years in Newbridge, dating back to a crushing defeat to Mayo under Mick O’Dwyer in March 2002. Those seven points came from twenty-three attempts at the target, a 30% return, which was by some distance their worst shooting performance since Glenn Ryan and his management team was appointed.

I’m not sure if anyone keeps records of these things but by failing to score in the opening 27 minutes and 32 seconds Kildare even managed to trump the famous All Ireland Qualifier with Fermanagh in 2008 when neither they nor the Erne Men fashioned a single score in 25 woeful minutes in Croke Park.

Cork scored five goals that day in 1976 and, if they’d have been so minded, they could have done so on Sunday as well, with Kildare totally outclassed and, as Glenn Ryan alluded to afterwards, out-worked, from positions one to fifteen.

Whatever confidence they took from that fourth quarter rally against Dublin drained away in a demoralising opening half. By the time they finally kicked a score into the Kilcullen End, Cork, who themselves took ten minutes to find their range, had 1-6 on the board and to all intents and purposes were half-way back down the M8.

Unsurprisingly, the Rebels, smarting from the concession of three match-winning goals to Meath the previous week, pulled players behind the ball as soon as they lost possession and Kildare were clueless and naive in their attempts to break them down, invariably running directly into two or three Cork defenders and with no colleague offering an option off the shoulder.

Their build-up play was laboured in the extreme, a variant on the slow, lateral play that was on offer from both teams for much of the first half in Croke Park, and against a hungry Cork team and with referee Jerome Henry giving Kildare nothing easy, it simply wasn’t going to wash.

At the other end, after a diligent enough start from the backs, Kildare became very loose as the Cork scores mounted up, and the Rebel forwards were put under little pressure when shooting. Ryan Houlihan may count himself unlucky enough to have been called ashore along with Neil Flynn before half-time; in truth any of the Kildare side could have been withdrawn early such was the poverty of the performance.

For Cork, the classy Brian Hurley was too hot to handle at full-forward, the Castlehaven man bagging the first two points of the day. Their first goal followed shortly afterwards when Kevin Flynn lost possession in midfield and when the ball was worked in to Hurley his pass across goal was palmed home by Seán Powter, despite the presence of two Kildare defenders.

Three further points from Steven Sherlock and one from Colm O’Callaghan preceded Kildare’s first, angled over by Jimmy Hyland but Cork continued in the ascendancy to lead 1-8 to 0-2 at half-time.

Kildare needed an early second half goal, but they didn’t ever like look scoring it and when half-time substitute Alex Beirne needlessly got himself sent off in the 49th minute for kicking out at an opponent, having already been granted his free, it was merely confirmation that the game was up.

Cork might have punished Kildare with a second goal on a number of occasions, but it eventually arrived five minutes into injury time when substitute Cathail O’Mahony slid home from a Colm O’Callaghan pass with the home defence missing in action.

That came two minutes after Kildare’s only real half-chance of a goal, when Kevin Feely’s low shot under pressure was batted away by Cork goalkeeper Micheál Martin. Neither Feely nor Daniel Flynn, both of whom were introduced in the second half, with Flynn getting his first minutes of the season, could exert any real influence on proceedings.

No Kildare player enhanced their reputation. Jimmy Hyland covered a huge amount of ground covering back and Jack Robinson floated over a couple of nice points but that was about as much as you could say.

The number of times Cork effortlessly kicked a score without the merest hint of a Kildare man in close proximity is a worrying sign on a day that the Tailteann Cup came menacingly into view. For sure, this is a team that needs to be looking nervously over their shoulder now and can forget about a return to Division One on this evidence.

The defeat leaves Ryan’s side second from bottom of Division Two after two games, alongside Limerick and Louth on zero points and face an increasingly important trip to Ennis to play Clare in two weeks’ time.

KILDARE: Mark Donnellan; Mick O’Grady, Shea Ryan, Ryan Houlihan; David Hyland 0-1, Darragh Malone, Paddy McDermott; Aaron Masterson, Kevin O’Callaghan; Neil Flynn, Kevin Flynn, Paul Cribbin; Jimmy Hyland 0-2 (1f), Darragh Kirwan 0-1, Jack Robinson 0-2.

Subs: TonyArchbold for Houlihan 28, Ben McCormack 0-1 for N Flynn 30, Alex Beirne for Cribbin HT, Kevin Feely for Masterson 45, Daniel Flynn for J Hyland 53.

CORK: Micheál Martin; Maurice Shanley, Daniel O’Mahony, Tommy Walsh; Luke Fahy 0-1, Rory Maguire, Mattie Taylor; Colm O’Callaghan 0-1, Ian Maguire; Eoghan McSweeney, Seán Powter 1-0, Brian O’Driscoll 0-3; Chris Óg Jones, Brian Hurley 0-4 (1m, 1f, 1’45), Steven Sherlock 0-4 (1f, 1’45).

Subs: Cathail O’Mahony 1-1 for Jones HT, Ruairi Deane for McSweeney 51, Conor Corbett for Sherlock 54, Killian O’Hanlon for O’Callaghan (temp 58-61), Seán Meehan for Powter (temp 65-FT), O’Hanlon for I Maguire 70, Cian Kiely for R Maguire 73.

Referee: Jerome Healy (Mayo). 

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