Conway proves driving force as Lilywhites rev up promotion prospects
Who says Kildare can't score goals? They racked up another brace for the second week in a row yesterday when James Kavanagh and Morgan O'Flaherty found the target in Drogheda.
A scoreline that flatters Louth and a third victory in a row also indicated that the Lilies are finally getting their groove on and, with results elsewhere favouring them, they quietly slipped into second place on the (Division 2) table, a vista that seemed highly improbable after round two.
It was all of 21 years since they last played in Drogheda (Mick O'Dwyer's championship debut as their manager in 1991) but yesterday's trip was worth the wait, putting them in a prime spot now from which to bag that long-awaited promotion. Yet with Westmeath approaching off a win themselves, manager Kieran McGeeney indicated he won't be letting them rest on their laurels.
They needed a sharp blast of the hairdryer at half-time yesterday after letting an early five-point lead slip to just the minimum (0-9 to 0-8). The halt to their early gallop was somewhat self-inflicted as they had already shot eight wides.
Especially worrying was that Louth's Derek Maguire had twice cut inside Ollie Lyons, from either wing, and got off two screaming shots only for them both to be denied by the woodwork. The Lilies were slow coming back out after half-time and whatever was said did the trick.
Substitute Ciaran Fitzpatrick had taken over on Maguire but also struggled, yet when Lyons resumed marking him he was eventually snuffed out. Within nine minutes the net shook, when Mikey Conway and John Doyle combined to find Kavanagh close to goal and the Ballymore man did the honours.
They had another great chance almost immediately when the unmarked Tomas O'Connor forced Neil Gallagher to make a great save, but 12 minutes later versatile defender Morgan O'Flaherty burst upfield and finished off a good move on the rebound.
That put Kildare 10 points clear and while questions will be asked about why they then failed to score and conceded six points (five frees) in the final 15 minutes, McGeeney wasn't too perturbed. Kildare's inability to take their goal chances had become a big stick with which to beat them but, in the last fortnight, they've put that to rest.
"It was a bit worrying that we weren't more ruthless in the first half when we were creating space and chances, but you have to give credit to the opposition too," McGeeney said. "We had a little more zip in our step in the second half and took that extra yard that they needed to get their scores."
Their only serious worry came when John Doyle limped out injured after an hour, but it appears to be just a dead leg. Despite his long-awaited cameo a week before, Dermot Earley got no game-time but McGeeney said they were happy that the Sarsfields star had got in a half-hour for his club on Friday.
In a team where such a collective effort rules, it is always hard to single out Kildare's best player and Eamonn Callaghan, Doyle and the O'Flaherty brothers put in the usual tireless shift, as did Padraig O'Neill at midfield. But Conway shaded it, scoring 0-4 from play as well as being their tireless link-man throughout. When Kildare's running game works, it is lethal and both himself, Doyle, O'Neill, Callaghan and Kavanagh made some great offloads yesterday.
Questions will be asked about how they let Louth into the game before half-time when Paddy Keenan and Ray Finnegan (marking Doyle), both missing a week ago, stamped their mark.
Louth defender Gerard Hoey and half-forward Jim McEneaney (son of Monaghan boss Eamonn) were also excellent and they were, noticeably, momentarily down to 14 men for Kildare's second goal as McEneaney was getting attention for a blood injury. But Louth's scoring options were sparse and they face a battle to avoid the drop.
"It's in our own hands, we need to beat Derry and Meath to stay up, but we were unlucky today at times, came back after being well down and hit the woodwork three times in the first half," manager Peter Fitzpatrick said. Louth also have a problem scoring goals, which he acknowledged, but he said 0-17 was still a decent score.
The problem was that eight of that tally came in the final quarter when the race was run, and 0-11 (10f) came from freetaker Darren Clarke, whereas Kildare's six starting forwards all scored.
Man of the Match: M Conway (Kildare)
Scorers -- Kildare: M O'Flaherty, J Kavanagh 1-1 each, M Conway 0-4, E Callaghan 0-3 (1f), J Doyle, T O'Connor 0-2 each, H McGrillen, E O'Flaherty 0-1 each. Louth: D Clarke 0-11 (10f), J McEneaney 0-2, G Hoey, M Brennan, R Finnegan, P Keenan 0-1 each.
Kildare -- S Connolly 7; P Kelly 7, H McGrillen 7, O Lyons 6; E Bolton 6, M O'Flaherty 8, M Foley 7; D O'Flynn 6, P O'Neill 8; J Kavanagh 7, M Conway 8, J Doyle 7; E Callaghan 8, T O'Connor 7, E O'Flaherty 8. Subs: C Fitzpatrick 6 for Bolton (24), A MacLochlainn 7 for Fitzpatrick (42), A Smith 6 for O'Connor (55), D Lawlor 7 for Doyle (inj, 58), R Sweeney 6 for Flynn (59).
Louth -- N Gallagher 8; J Carr 6, D Finnegan 7, G Hoey 8; D Byrne 7, D Crilly 6, R Finnegan 8; B Donnelly 6, P Keenan 8; A McDonnell 7, R Carroll 6, J McEneaney 8; D Maguire 7, M Brennan 6, D Clarke 8. Subs: L Shevlin 6 for Crilly (42), B White 6 for Carroll (47), S Fitzpatrick 6 for Carr (62), A Reid 6 for Brennan (62), JP Rooney 6 for McDonnell (66).
Ref -- D Coldrick (Meath)