Treaty bow to white heat
SATURDAY tends to be 'fright night' for the big summer fish and Kildare had their people peering through latticed fingers before surviving a shower-slaying scene in Portlaoise.
Limerick touched down in the midlands with a plan and the smarts to implement it and, for 71 minutes, O'Moore Park had the feel of a snowdrop-speckled grave.
The white hordes howled and shrieked as Maurice Horan's tactic of getting bodies deep and moving forward only in military phalanxes seemed to neuter a team flagged -- pre-championship -- as contenders.
Limerick supplemented their full-back line with the presence of notional wing-forward Paudie Browne and their selected full-forward, Seamus O'Carroll, was essentially denied a visa to cross the halfway line.
It clogged the avenues Kildare like to amble through and, with the game deep in injury time, a stone-faced Kieran McGeeney watched his side chase possession by a corner flag on their own end line. A point adrift, they literally had seconds to save their season.
Had Limerick kicked the ball dead, it was probably over. But James Kavanagh forced a turnover and, within seconds, Kildare had worked Emmet Bolton into position at the far end of the field for an equaliser that changed everything.
For a team with last week's extra-time against Longford still in their legs, Limerick were now just waiting for a priest to anoint them. Eamonn Callaghan should have put them out of their misery seconds later, but his shot dropped short into goalkeeper Brian Scanlon's hands.
It was no more than a suspension of the truth, mind.
"We knew we were going to be under pressure in extra-time after last weekend," sighed Horan later. "And that definitely took its toll."
The rest was white slaughter, McGeeney's men finding their teeth to outscore flagging opposition 0-8 to 0-1 in the remainder, and even Seanie Johnston proving he could be something more than Cavan's satirical gift to Kildare hurling with two stylishly-taken points.
It was cruel to Limerick. Their system may have been one of fundamental containment, but the eager, intelligent running of Ger Collins and Ian Ryan in a two-man full-forward line meant that Kildare looked endlessly vulnerable in terms of protecting their own house.
Ryan gave Peter Kelly a torrid time in the first half, particularly, and had contributed five of Limerick's seven-point halfway total -- two from play.
The Munster team led 0-7 to 0-4 at that juncture and it might have been even worse for Kildare had the St Senan's man not blazed a goal chance over in the 12th minute after a wonderful right-wing delivery from Eoghan O'Connor.
Kildare were soon reduced to seeking out that human pylon, Tomas O'Connor, with long-range missiles, but O'Connor and Alan Smith were constantly outnumbered in the inside line as Limerick's traffic management reaped a dividend.
Once, Ryan chased a slow-burn Kildare attack virtually the length of the field, bizarrely condensing all bar Collins of the Limerick team inside their own '45.
So, McGeeney had to rewrite his game plan and, in the 48th minute, he dispatched Johnston and Padraig O'Neill off the bench in an effort to brighten their running angles.
Kildare momentarily caught fire after a beautiful John Doyle free on the hour, Kavanagh following up with a point from play and Johnston being narrowly wide with an effort from the right wing.
With nine minutes of normal time remaining, there was just a point between them, all momentum seemingly now carried by the team in white.
Yet, Limerick weren't ready to tip the forelock. Playing into a gusting wind, they kept making those body-on-the-line tackles and, in possession, their patience eschewed the long, percentage delivery that might have leaked an opposition chance.
What opportunities Kildare did mine were duly spoilt by abject shooting. With the game in added time, Portlaoise hissing like a boiling kettle, one of the first big summer upsets loomed. Limerick just had to run the clock down.
"It's hard to say whether you're worried or not," said McGeeney later. "You have a belief in them."
And, to be fair, Kildare's manufacturing of the equalising point justified that belief. They moved the ball with a precision and tempo that, in the circumstances, was impressive and Bolton's final aim proved unerring. Limerick's race was run.
Horan took his team to the privacy of the dressing-room for whatever reparation they could muster but, in his heart, he suspected what was coming.
"You know nearly 200 minutes of football in the space of a week, basically," he sighed. "It's tough on the body."
Tougher still for a team that had wintered in the wastelands of Division 4.
And, so, they fell away without much further protest, save Stephen Kelly (a terrific hour of hard, intelligent running banked earlier) looking to pick a fight in front of the stand.
Kildare won the first period of extra-time 0-6 to 0-0 and, midway through the second, Sligo boss Kevin Walsh slipped away to beat the traffic, his homework done.
Behind him, a white community began to take hands down from eyes and lament how Hallowe'en came uncomfortably early this year.
SCORERS -- Kildare: J Kavanagh, M Conway (2f) 0-3 each, S Johnston, E O'Flaherty (1f), J Doyle (2f) 0-2 each, A Smith, R Kelly, M Foley, E Bolton, P O'Neill, M O'Flaherty, E Doyle 0-1 each. Limerick: I Ryan 0-7 (5f), S Kelly, D Quaid, G Collins, E O'Connor, B Scanlon (f) 0-1 each.
KILDARE -- S Connolly 7; O Lyons 6, P Kelly 6, E Doyle 7; E Bolton 7, H McGrillen 7, M O'Flaherty 8; M Foley 9, R Kelly 7; E O'Flaherty 6, M Conway 7, A Smith 6; J Doyle 7, T O'Connor 6, J Kavanagh 7. Subs: S Johnston 7 for E O'Flaherty (48), P O'Neill 7 for Kelly (48), P Fogarty 6 for O'Connor (56), E Callaghan 6 for Smith (66), G White 6 for Bolton (74), E O'Flaherty for M O'Flaherty (80).
LIMERICK -- B Scanlon 7; A Lane 6, J McCarthy7, L O'Dwyer 7; P Browne 7, J Riordan 7, S Lucey 8; P Ranahan 7, J Donovan 6; S Buckley 7, E O'Connor 7, S Kelly 8; S O'Carroll 7, G Collins 8, I Ryan 8. Subs: D Quaid 7 for Lane (20), I Corbett 6 for O'Carroll (50), B O'Brien 6 for Donovan (54), J O'Meara 6 for Kelly (61), J Cooke 6 for Collins (68), Kelly for Riordan (83).
REF -- B Cassidy (Derry)