By Richard Commins

Kildare secured only their second win at under-20 level since the All Ireland success of 2018 when they accounted for a battling Laois side in a highly entertaining Leinster Quarter Final at Manguard Plus Hawkfield on Thursday night last.

Brian Flanagan’s side were provincial minor champions three years ago but only three of that team started on the night, Mark Maguire, Tommy Gill and Eoin Bagnall, with forward star Aaron Browne one of the absentees with a hamstring injury. He remains doubtful for Thursday’s semi-final against reigning All Ireland champions Offaly in Tullamore.

Kildare seemed to have this game won twice, but Laois showed remarkable resilience and in the end Flanagan’s side were grateful to get the rub of the green when it came to Fintan Pierce’s refereeing decisions with a few of their frees definitely of the soft variety.

In addition, Laois really should have won the game four and a half minutes into injury time. Trailing by two points, the O’Moore men’s last chance seemed to have gone when a pass trickled wide, but Kildare hit the self-destruct button.

Cormac Barker’s short kick out found full-back Dean O’Donoghue but his fisted pass went straight to Laois sub Oisín Hooney with the goal at his mercy, but he dragged his shot left and wide.

Playing down the slope into the Milltown end with the breeze favouring them, Kildare had started like a train and their dominance around the middle, where Luke Killian and Daniel Lynam were particularly impressive, saw them power into a 2-5 to 0-2 lead within 18 minutes.

Bagnall got them off the mark with a first minute free after a foul on Shane Farrell with their outstanding forward, Clane’s Adam Fanning, adding the first two of his five from play. Before Laois had a score on the board, they found themselves six points behind when O’Donoghue joined the attack, took a pass from Lynam and buried it to goalie Conor Browne’s left.

Laois did open their account with a point from Shaun Fitzpatrick shortly afterwards, but it was all-Kildare and, despite hitting four wides in a row, a Bagnall free and Fanning’s third got them moving again before Paddy Hosey pointed Laois’ second.

The second goal on 18 minutes arrived when a penetrating run from Fanning and quick passes from Darragh Swords and Bagnall put Lynam in on goal. That put Kildare nine points ahead. Game over? Nothing of the sort.

Swords and Darragh Carolan exchanged points and then, out of the blue, Laois hit back with two goals in a minute, the first palmed home by Hosey after good work from Fitzpatrick on the right, the second a blistering left-footed finish by Davin McEvoy that gave Barker no chance.

Kildare outscored Laois three points to two in the remaining nine minutes of the half with Bagnall’s free added to by Niall O’Regan and corner-back Harry O’Neill; Laois responding through Rioghan Murphy and a Colin Dunne free.

The visitors were well in touch at 2-9 to 2-5 but after conceding the opening point of the second half to Dunne’s mark, Kildare scored the next five through Lynam, Fanning, Swords, Farrell and Bagnall.

That seemingly put the game to bed a second time with the lead at eight after 45 minutes.

Their defence was found wanting again though a minute later when Fitzpatrick’s effort found the net despite a half-block by James McGrath and three points from Dunne narrowed the gap to two points with eight minutes remaining.

A Fanning effort five minutes from time that seemed destined for the top corner was superbly tipped over by Browne and another Dunne free saw the game enter injury time at 2-15 to 3-10 in Kildare’s favour.

Kildare had lost Brendan Gibbons to a black card by now and nerves were jangling when a snapshot from Brian Whelan narrowed the gap to the bare minimum two minutes into injury time.

A soft free awarded for the slightest of jersey tugs on Darragh Swords provided Bagnall with his fifth point before Hooney’s last-gasp attempt slid away, taking Laois’ championship hopes with it.

KILDARE: Cormac Barker (Kilcullen); Harry O’Neill (Clane) 0-1, Dean O’Donoghue (Celbridge) 1-0, Mark Maguire (Naas); Tom Martin (Suncroft), James McGrath (Athy), Tommy Gill (Carbury); Brendan Gibbons (Kilcock), Luke Killian (Sallins); Niall O’Regan (Celbridge) 0-1, Daniel Lynam (Caragh) 1-1, Adam Fanning (Clane) 0-5; Darragh Swords (Caragh) 0-2, Shane Farrell (Kilcock) 0-1, Eoin Bagnall (Allenwood) 0-5 (5fs). Subs: Aeden Boyle (Clogherinkoe) for Martin 22, James Dalton (Sallins) for O’Regan 48, Jack McKevitt (Naas) for McGrath 48, Ryan Burke (Caragh) for Fanning 57, Cian Shanahan (Clane) for Lynam 60.                             

LAOIS: Conor Browne; Ben Reddin, Eamon Delaney, Ben Dempsey; Sean Greene, Simon Fingleton, Conor Heffernan; Ciaran Burke, Kevin Swayne; Rioghan Murphy 0-1, Davin McEvoy 1-0, Shaun Fitzpatrick 1-1; Paddy Hosey 1-1, Darragh Carolan 0-1, Colin Dunne 0-6 (4fs, 1m). Subs: Conor Goode for Swayne b/s 2-5, Danny Brennan for Reddin 27, OisÍn Hooney for McEvoy 41, Darragh Slevin for Burke 44, Brian Whelan 0-1 for Hosey 52, Goode for Carolan 55.                                                   

REFEREE: Fintan Pierce (Offaly)

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