Sunday 22 October 2017

Cassidy's wonder point breaks Kildare hearts

Donegal 1-12 Kildare 0-14

DERMOT CROWE, at Croke Park

TWO years ago, Donegal left Croke Park after a brutal beating from Cork, humiliated after conceding 1-27, and many of those players were on the field against Kildare last night.

But they are a transformed team now, with a resilience that their next opponents, Dublin or Tyrone, will have noted with care.

That hardiness and spirit, long absent from Donegal teams, has already brought them a first Ulster title in 19 years and now they have an All-Ireland semi-final spot to go with it. But while admiration for their feat is entirely valid and warranted, Kildare deserve some sympathy for going home empty-handed. They looked the most likely winner through most of extra-time.

Kieran McGeeney will be knocking his head off a stone wall after this setback, and wondering if someone up there doesn't like his side; this was his fourth year in a row to lose in the latter stages in heartbreaking circumstances.

Having survived with a late three-point rally in normal time, responding to a Christy Toye goal that looked to have been enough to win a low-scoring affair, Kildare took that momentum into extra-time to build up a three-point lead of their own.

A point from Emmet Bolton after first period scores from Ronan Sweeney, Gary White and Alan Smith gave them a 0-14 to 1-8 lead and with eight minutes left they looked almost home. Karl Lacey, outstanding all evening, had kicked Donegal's sole extra-time reply and his side were switching forwards in and out in a desperate attempt to find some new spark to ignite them.

Michael Murphy provided it with two scores, one from a free, despite not starting the match due to a hamstring injury and clearly not 100 per cent fit. But he came on in the first half of normal time and finished with three critical points.

With time almost up, Toye kicked the equaliser, and then with one final push Kevin Cassidy claimed the headlines with a superb strike from out the field. Kildare didn't have time to recover and collapsed to the floor at the whistle, distraught at the remarkable late twist.

Kildare had come into the match having scored no less then 17 points in each of their previous three qualifiers but Donegal's defensive swarming kept the scoring in single digits for long periods.

Kildare dominated possession in the first half of normal time, winning most of the kickouts, but could not make that advantage count as Donegal brought back 13 players to close down the space and force Kildare to kick from distance. Long balls into Tomas O'Connor didn't work either. Neil McGee had a huge game and constantly spoiled the ball, keeping a tight rein on the big full-forward, who was taken off moments after his goal was wrongly ruled out for square ball.

John Doyle failed to sparkle, too, and finished without a score. He moved out of midfield for the second half but a few spectacular efforts to find the target failed and he ended the evening with a frustrating performance. Alan Smith came on and kicked two good points and Eoghan O'Flaherty's six -- mostly from frees -- kept Kildare ticking when they needed scores most. James Kavanagh had a quiet match, one wonderful point aside, but it was a game in which being a forward was not recommended.

With a fraction of the possession, Donegal managed to lead after 10 minutes when Rory Kavanagh kicked a good long-range score. But they failed to register again for 29 minutes until Mark McHugh chased what looked a lost cause and retrieved the ball, before kicking the half's last score -- Kildare 0-5 to 0-3 in front.

A series of wides spoiled Kildare's approach work but they were three to the good when O'Flaherty scored another free after half-time.

Donegal found a higher gear from there. Three points in five minutes from Murphy, Ryan Bradley and Dermot Molloy -- an avalanche of scores in a match where they were at such a premium -- brought them level. Then Toye, just on the field, goaled in the 58th minute and Kildare looked in serious bother.

They found something though, and O'Flaherty's two frees and Kavanagh's excellent effort earned them extra-time. The equaliser came from another O'Flaherty free with Donegal defending maniacally and time almost up.

Kildare will wonder how they lost it from there. Sweeney kicked the first score of extra-time to regain a lead long relinquished. Gary White added a cleanly struck free and Donegal needed something to lift them.

The impressive Smith kicked his second score but Donegal gave themselves some hope with a late point from Lacey. It left them trailing by two entering the final period.

Bolton's point on the restart looked to have buried Donegal. But they had Murphy to inspire them and they possessed a determination and will that is a credit to them and to their manager Jim McGuinness. No one will take them lightly, that's for sure.

Scorers -- Kildare: E O'Flaherty 0-6 (4f), A Smith 0-2; P O'Neill, E Callaghan, J Kavanagh, R Sweeney, G White (1f), E Bolton 0-1. Donegal: C Toye 1-1; M Murphy 0-3 (0-1 f); K Cassidy 0-2; P McBrearty, R Kavanagh, M McHugh, R Bradley, D Molloy, K Lacey 0-1 each.

Kildare: S Connolly; A MacLochlainn, M Foley, H McGrillen; E Callaghan, E Bolton, M O'Flaherty; J Doyle, D Flynn; P O'Neill, B Flanagan, R Kelly; E O'Flaherty, T O'Connor, J Kavanagh. Subs: A Smith for O'Connor (41), O Lyons for MacLochlainn (61), R Sweeney for Flanagan (61), M Conway for O'Neill (65), G White for Doyle 70), F Dowling for J Kavanagh (e-t), J Doyle for E O'Flaherty (extra-time), B Flanagan for Kelly (e-t)

Donegal: P Durcan; F McGlynn, N McGee, P McGrath; A Thompson, K Lacey, K Cassidy; N Gallagher, R Kavanagh; M McHugh, M Hegarty, R Bradley; P McBrearty, D Walsh, C McFadden. Subs: M Murphy for McBrearty (26), E McGee for McGrath (26), M McElhinney for Gallagher (h-t), D Molloy for Hegarty (41), C Toye for McFadden (58), C McFadden for Molloy (e-t), K Rafferty fro McElhinney (e-t), N Gallagher for Rafferty (e-t), D Molloy for McFadden (e-t), P McBrearty for Bradley (e-t)

Referee: D McColdrick (Meath)

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