An eight point win over Wexford in Chadwick’s Wexford Park tonight was enough to secure a quarter-final place for Kildare in the Eirgrid Leinster Under 20 Football Championship.

Manager Brian Flanagan rang the changes for the holders after a poor showing in defeat to Westmeath last week with six newcomers to the starting team and he got the response he needed with a sharper and more aggressive display.

It was far from perfect, and Kildare made life difficult for themselves at times. Needing to win by seven points to ensure themselves of one of the two qualifying spots in this three-team group they had a spell of the yips in front of the posts when wind-assisted and dominant in the third quarter.

Then, having pushed eleven points clear early in the second half, Kildare seemed to take their foot off the pedal and five points in a row from a disappointing home side made it a six-point game heading into the last few minutes.

Thankfully, Kildare steadied the ship and late points from substitute Fionn Cooke and man-of-the-match Shane Farrell saw them see out the win with eight points to spare.

Farrell scored six points in all in an all-action display, the only blot on his copybook a couple of missed frees in the opening period, while his fielding was a joy to behold. At least three times he pulled Wexford kick-outs  from the skies and his all-round contribution was immense.

Kildare looked sharp in the opening quarter with the lively Oisín O’Sullivan and Niall Dolan each weighing in with two points with Adam Fanning, Ryan Sinkey and Farrell, the latter two from frees, helping them into a 0-7 to 0-3 lead by the 16th minute.

Wexford spent most of their time defending in the opening half but points from Dylan Cooke Leonard, Morgan Ellis and a Rian Fitzpatrick free kept them in touch. They could have been a long way further back at half-time but six wides in succession in 14 minutes heading towards half-time looked to have put Kildare in trouble.

Points from Farrell and Sinkey from play just before the interval got the scoreboard moving again to give the Lilywhites a six-point half-time lead and they reeled off the first five points of the second half to open up that commanding eleven point advantage. Farrell contributed three of those with Colm Dalton and Sinkey on target too.

Wexford lifted things, though, and perhaps Kildare’s five substitutions disrupted their rhythm and between the 44th and 53rd minutes points from Fitzpatrick (two frees), Alan Mahoney (f), Liam Doyle and Bill Peare made it 0-14 to 0-8.

Kildare might have had a couple of goals during that Wexford scoring burst. First O’Sullivan shot into the side netting when put through by Dalton and minutes later Fanning’s flick was cleared off the line by full-back Brian Cushe.

If it the six-point margin had remained, with Kildare having lost the opening game by six points to Westmeath, there was the possibility of all three teams in the group finishing with the same scoring difference (if Wexford were to beat Westmeath by six next week) but those late points from substitute Cooke and that man Farrell made that encounter academic from a Kildare perspective.

Manager Flanagan had been hugely disappointed with the display against Westmeath but felt that he got the response he asked for.

“I thought we got a response in spades,” said the Johnstownbridge man, “Tough week, a test of character coming down here because last week wasn’t part of the plan. But listen, you get days like that in football, it’s how you turn it around. These are young lads, 18, 19 and 20. It’s hard to read the mood. You think they’re okay and they’re going to step up but until 7.30 this evening we didn’t know.”

Being able to make six changes was indicative of the strength of the panel and was happy to have had given game time to those new starters tonight.

“We feel we’ve a big squad, a strong squad, and we wanted to back that and give other lads opportunities tonight. And in fairness, yeah, I thought to a man they stood up. Six (changes) is a lot but I just felt we had to change things after what happened last week. There’s some lads going well in training and they needed their opportunity and in a short Leinster Championship, if you didn’t give them the opportunity this week they might not have got it at all.”

KILDARE: Eoin Sheehan (Johnstownbridge); Harry O’Neill (Clane), Ryan Burke (Caragh), Tim Ryan (Naas); Fionn Ó Giolláin (Maynooth), James McGrath (Athy), Jack McKevitt (Naas); Daire Guerin (Naas), Shane Farrell (Kilcock) 0-6 (4fs); Colm Dalton (Sallins) 0-1, Niall Dolan (Raheens) 0-2, Ciaran Flanagan (Maynooth); Adam Fanning (Clane) 0-1, Ryan Sinkey (Naas) 0-3 (1f), Oisin O’Sullivan (Clane) 0-2. Subs: Eoin Cully for Flanagan 41, Kevin Cummins for O’Sullivan 46, James Harris for McKevitt 50, Fionn Cooke 0-1 for Fanning 54, Seán Hanafin for Dalton 58.

WEXFORD: Rory Tubritt; Darragh Furlong, Brian Cushe, Conor Kelly; Jack Higgins, Ben Martin, Ruairí Martin; Rian Fitzpatrick 0-3 (3fs), Liam Doyle 0-1; Cian Hughes, Adam Harris, Morgan Ellis 0-1; Brendan Tobin, Alan Mahoney 0-1 (f), Dylan Cooke Leonard 0-1. Subs: Bill Peare 0-1 for Tobin 39, Daniel Roche for Martin 43, Conor Jones for Furlong 43, Michael McGonigle for Ellis 49, Seán Hughes for Cooke Leonard 52.

Referee: Stephen Fagan (Wicklow).

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