Ryan stays grounded as Louth surrender
FIFTEEN minutes in, Kildare raised a green flag and Louth replied with a white one.
Kildare 1-22 Louth 1-7 - Leinster SFC
Cathal McNally's goal, coming on the back of some slick interchange play among Kildare's new-look forward line, sparked an uncharacteristic surrender from Louth.
What came after that score was another 15 points for the Lilies and it could have been more.
There was an empty feel to this one. But for Neil Gallagher in the Louth goal and some poor decision-making, Kildare might have found the net on another three occasions in the first half.
In any case, it was academic because, after McNally's goal, Louth were a team looking for the bus while the Lilies filled their boots.
Most encouragingly for manager Jason Ryan, it was some of Kildare's younger faces who led the early charge.
McNally opened their account after just 40 seconds, while Paudge Fogarty was excellent in the opening exchanges. Niall Kelly buzzed with energy and guile, but everything was tainted by Louth's lethargy.
The first senior championship game in Croke Park this year had more of the feel of a challenge game.
Louth recognised they were in trouble from early on. Manager Aidan O'Rourke made his first substitution just after the quarter-hour mark and sprung schoolboy Ryan Burns from the bench before the break.
Burns will continue his Leaving Cert exams this morning and, having scored the decisive goal against Westmeath with his first touch, he might have had a similar impact here.
With his first possession, the teenager danced past Hugh McGrillen to get a sight on goal. However, he got caught in two minds and handpassed harmlessly towards the net when Louth badly need a shot in the arm.
It never came and they went in trailing by 1-13 to 0-5 at the break. Kildare were all but out of sight.
As O'Rourke pointed out afterwards, they were better on the restart. Shane Lennon got Louth's goal after gathering Burns' pass.
There was still almost 20 minutes to go at that stage, but he knew there would be no rally and hardly acknowledged the score. Louth had been long since beaten.
"Our good performances in the last couple of years have always been underpinned by very high work-rate and intensity in the tackle," a crestfallen O'Rourke said.
"In Mullingar, that was the most notable thing about it. We have good footballers, but if you don't have the ball and if you are chasing all day, it doesn't matter how many good footballers you have.
"We started the game with no energy, very flat, and that turns into no work-rate, not making runs and not making tackles. It's all related."
It was a championship game in name only, but Ryan was insistent that the game held real value for his side. After a difficult league that saw them relegated from the top flight as they struggled to adjust after a wave of retirements, Kildare seem to be finding their feet.
"We got battered in the National League... well, not battered but days where we were very disappointed. We lost games, so for Kildare it's about winning games. If it's by one or 37 points it doesn't matter, it's just winning games," said Ryan.
"It gives the group confidence. Louth team performed well against Westmeath and put in some good performances in the National League.
"A lot of their defeats were because they were missing key players like Derek Maguire, Shane Lennon... they can't afford to be losing those players. So no matter who we're playing, we'll take it with both hands."
Mick O'Grady, Tomás O'Connor, Eoin Dolye, Alan Smith, Darroch Mulhall and Paul Cribbin will all be trying to force their way back into the side for the Leinster semi-final, and Ryan admitted that he was still some way from establishing his best team.
And while he was upbeat, the Kildare manager was keen to temper expectations ahead of a last-four clash with either Meath or Carlow.
"We're a team in transition. We're not saying we're going to go away and win Leinster, we're going to win the All-Ireland... we've got to get wins now," he added. "We can't even think about any further than Carlow or Meath.
"Maybe if we were a Cork, a Kerry or a Mayo, who were consistently in All-Ireland finals, semi-finals, provincial finals, we could do it then, but we haven't been in a provincial final for a number of years and it's a long time since they won one. So we can't go in with any other attitude than game by game.
"Every game there is an element of pressure. The expectation in Kildare is fairly mental ... which is unjustified. Not a lot has changed from today apart from that we won a game. That's it."
The remnants of a miserable spring now shaken off, Kildare have their eyes fixed on a long summer.
SCORERS – Kildare: C McNally 1-2, N Kelly, P Brophy (1f), P Fogarty (2fs), E Bolton 0-3 each, A Smith 0-2, O Lyons, K Cribbin, T Moolick, P O'Neill, E Callaghan, E O'Flaherty 0-1 each. Louth: S Lennon 1-3 (0-1f), P Keenan 0-2, J O'Brien, C Grimes 0-1 each.
Kildare – M Donnellan 7; H McGrillen 8, M Foley 7, K Cribbin 7; O Lyons 7, F Conway 7, E Bolton 8; T Moolick 8, P O'Neill 7; S Hurley 7, E Callaghan 8, C McNally 8; P Fogarty 8, P Brophy 8, N Kelly 8. Subs: E O'Flaherty 7 for McNally (45), A Smith 7 for Hurley (54), T O'Connor for Fogarty (60), D Flynn for Callaghan (62), C Fitzpatrick for Bolton (64), D Hyland for Cribbin (66).
Louth – N Gallagher 8; P Rath 6, D Finnegan 6, M Fanning 5; P Reilly 7, D Crilly 6, A Reid 7; P Keenan 6, A McDonnell 6; J O'Brien 6, B White 5, D Maguire 5; D Byrne 6, S Lennon 7, C Grimes 5. Subs: J Stewart 6 for Fanning (18), R Burns 6 for White (32), B Donnelly 5 for Reilly (45), E Lafferty 6 for Maguire (50), S O'Hanlon 6 for Donnelly (60), R Brodigan for Byrne (67).
REF – B Cassidy (Derry).