Kildare finally slay one of the top six to beat Cork and advance to quarter-final with Kerry
HANDS up who saw this coming?
Perhaps, wisely, you watched Kildare’s slow-burning progress through the qualifiers and developed a hunch that tonight in Thurles against Cork might be the day they got their big win.
Or just maybe, you took one look at Cork’s decline after the draw in Killarney two weeks back and adjudged their seasonal high-point to have passed without reward.
Either way, this felt at times feintly bizarre.
Kildare romped it and should have by more and all the grumbling and sighing about Jason Ryan and his team seemed to be as ridiculous as their dominance over a team with decent All-Ireland prospects at the start of the year.
Cork came, had a look and crumbled.
And thus, the Lilies are blooming in August.
An All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry a fortnight tomorrow, to be precise and whatever happens there, Ryan has salvaged a season from the very precipice of an apocalypse.
Meanwhile, all the doubts about Cork over these past couple of turbulent seasons were manifest in one 78 minute slideshow of horror.
Not that Kildare came out and trampled all over Cork or anything like it.
Patience is a virtue, apparently.
And verification of this proverb in a sporting context came in a mostly empty Semple Stadium tonight.
Both teams have had their problems and jarring defeats this season but it was Kildare who had the gumption and most importantly, the patience to win this football match like most inter-county football matches must be won this season.
Cork were compact. Kildare, equally so.
Yet Kildare were happy to throw the ball around in the early stages and bide their time.
Cork wanted it done straight away or not at all.
Kildare were methodical. Cork were angsty.
That, it seems, is the difference between a team with a couple of qualifier wins under their oxter and another freshly squeezed out of a Munster title.
Mostly, that particular choreography involved rotating possession until such time as Niall Kelly - Kildare’s balletic forward - arrived onto the ball.
He kicked three points to steady Kildare when they needed to be steadied and the rest took their lead from him.
It must, however, be said that anything that could go wrong for Cork did so and more besides.
Alan O’Connor - their Killarney colossus - went off with a serious and painful ooking knee injury after just 20 minutes and James Loughrey was lost to an early black card.
Naturally, there were lots of fumbles and botched passes but Kildare could absorb and improve where Cork just wilted.
Kildare led by 0-11 to 0-5 at half-time and their supporters in the 3,815 Thurles crowd who came to bury them toasted their team instead.
And after, say, 42 minutes, when Kelly stylishly cut inside his man to bury a goal off his left foot and extend Kildare’s lead to eight minutes or perhaps a minute later, when Eoghan O’Flaherty narrowly blazed wide, it was hard not to surmise that Cork weren’t so much dead and buried themselves as expired and cremated.
Then Kevin O’Driscoll was sent off on a straight red card and it was clear that Cork may as well have been trying to kick balloons over the bar for all the luck they’d have.
A team that less than a fortnight before, should have beaten Kerry in Killarney.
Trounced by a team that were relegated and then stuffed and mounted by the Dubs in Croke Park.
Now, Kildare are a round away - albeit one in which they’ll play Kerry in Croke Park - from matching their best season under McGeeney.
It’s taken a while but all they needed was a little patience.
SCORERS - Kildare: N Kelly 1-4, O’Flaherty 0-5 (5f), P Fogarty 0-3 (1f), P Cribben, A Smith, M Donnellan (1f, 1’45) 0-2 each, P O’Neill, O Lyons, C McNally 0-1 each. Cork: C O’Neill 1-4 (1-3f), D O’Connor 0-5 (3f, 1 ‘45), M Collins, P Kerrigan, B Hurley, Brian O’Driscoll (f) 0-1 each.
KILDARE: M Donnellan; O Lyons, C Fitzpatrick, M O’Grady; K Murnaghan, E Doyle. E Bolton; T Moolick, P Cribben; C McNally, E O’Flaherty, P O’Neill; N Kelly, A Smith, E Callaghan. Subs: P Fogarty for Callaghan (35+4 inj), P Kelly for O’Grady (38 inj), M Sherry for O’Flaherty (50 black card), M Conway for McNally (56), F Conway for N Kelly (64)
CORK: K O’Halloran; M Shields, J O’Sullivan, S Cronin; Barry O’Driscoll, J Loughrey, A O’Connor, E Cadogan; C O’Driscoll, M Collins, K O’Driscoll; C O’Neill, P Kerrigan, D O’Connor. Subs: Brian O’Driscoll for Loughrey (12 black card), F Goold for O’Connor (20 inj), B Hurley for C O’Driscoll (h-t), T Clancy for Cronin (43), J O’Rourke for Dorman (48), D Óg Hodnett for O’Sullivan (65)
REF: Marty Duffy (Sligo)