Kildare dug deep in extra time to retain their Eirgrid Leinster Under-20 Football title with a dramatic three-point win over Dublin in Netwatch Cullen Park tonight.

Brian Flanagan’s side were heroic at times in a slow-burning encounter that developed into an absorbing affair from the second half of normal time onwards.

Kildare’s spirit and defensive resolve was impressive, but it was a performance peppered with real quality. It is probably an imperfect measure, but Flanagan’s side outscored their capital neighbours by 13-7 from open play.

That was despite inside forwards Eoin Cully and Oisín O’Sullivan struggling to shake off a strong Dublin full-back line although Flanagan afterwards felt perhaps the ball going into them was not up to scratch.

This Kildare team tend to spread the scores around, though, and on this occasion the half-forward line stepped up to the mark with the outstanding trio of official man-of-the-match Ryan Sinkey (4), Callum Bolton (2) and Colm Dalton (3) shooting nine points between them from play.

Kildare had played into a reasonably strong wind in the opening half and with Bolton winning a huge amount of ball from Cormac Barker’s long kick-outs and Sinkey (3) and Dalton (2) on fire in front of the posts, Brian Flanagan would have been happy enough to go in just two points behind (7-5) at the interval.

Both sides might have had goals in the opening, but Eoin Cully lost his footing after Bolton had won possession from a kick-out and a fine passing move involving Sinkey and Fionn Cooke opened things up for the Carbury youngster.

Straight from the kick-out, Dublin opened up the Kildare defence to create a three-on-one situation, but centre-forward Luke Ward’s shot was turned over the crossbar by Barker.

After two Ross Keogh frees and one from Shane Farrell in reply put Dublin 9-6 ahead, Kildare hit a rich vein of form with four points in a row in the middle of the second half that sent them into a one-point lead.

But Dublin, who were missing their star forward Luke Breathnach with injury, hit back with points from Bill Costello and a Joe Quigley free in the last ten minutes to look likely winners.

They didn’t count on Dalton, though, nor the tenacity of the Kildare defence. Outstanding wing-back Jack McKevitt got back to execute a critical block on Costello while in injury time Kildare tracked the run of Dan O’Leary without conceding a crucial foul, the Dublin wing-back over-carrying.

From the resultant possession, in the second of three minutes of injury time, Ryan Burke made ground up the left wing before offloading to the Sallins man Dalton and he set off jinking past a would-be tackler before capping his superb performance with a wonderful point from 35 metres out to force extra-time (0-11 each).

Again, Kildare had the wind against them in the first period of added time, but they outscored Dublin three points to one with Adam Fanning hitting a blistering low shot just over the crossbar having been put through by clubmate Harry O’Neill, Bolton firing a fine effort from the right wing and joint captain Farrell curling over a free. Dublin’s only response in that period came from a Quigley free.

Farrell’s score had given Kildare a two-point advantage for the first time in the game and they doubled that advantage in the opening six minutes of the second half. Barker struck a sweetly struck left-footed free over off the upright from almost 45 metres and then Dalton sprinted down the stand side to release O’Sullivan who calmly made it 16-12.

A Ross Keogh free put Dublin within a goal of rescuing it but for the second year in a row the dominant force in Leinster senior football were forced to accept the bridesmaids’ role in the Under 20 competition.

Their conquerors will meet Ulster Champions Down in the All-Ireland Semi-Final on Saturday evening (7pm) in Parnell Park.

KILDARE: Cormac Barker (Kilcullen) 0-1 (f); Tomas Von Engelbrechten (Johnstownbridge), Harry O’Neill (Clane), Ryan Burke (Caragh); James Harris (Castlemitchell), James McGrath (Athy), Jack McKevitt (Naas); Fionn Cooke (Raheens), Shane Farrell (Kilcock) 0-2 (2fs); Ryan Sinkey (Naas) 0-4, Callum Bolton (Sarsfields) 0-2, Colm Dalton (Sallins) 0-3; Adam Fanning (Clane) 0-2, Oisín O’Sullivan (Clane) 0-2, Eoin Cully (Carbury). Subs: Seán Hanafin (Naas) for Cully 41, Darragh Swords (Caragh) for Cooke 53, Ethan Mountaine (Sarsfields) for Von Engelbrechten (60), Niall Dolan (Raheens) for Sinkey 64, Fionn Ó Giolláin (Maynooth) for Burke 70, Daire Guerin (Naas) for McGrath 75.

DUBLIN: Andrew Smyth; Finn Bruton, Theo Clancy, Evan Nugent; Dan O’Leary, Séamus Smith 0-1, Alex Gavin; Ethan Dunne, Greg McEneaney 0-1; Conor Dolan, Luke Ward 0-1, Michael McDonald; Darragh Dempsey, Joe Quigley 0-5 (3fs), Ross Keogh 0-4 (3fs). Subs: Bill Costello 0-1 for Dempsey HT, James Cotter for Smith 45, Tom Brennan for McDonald 49, Dara McGrath for O’Leary 60, Charlie McMorrow for Cotter 60, Michael McDonald for Costello 66, Caelum Moriarty for Quigley 70, Clyde Burke for Dolan 77.

REFEREE: Alan Coyne (Westmeath)

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