Sunday 22 October 2017

Seanie Johnston saga ends in Breffni rout

Cavan old boy wraps up romp on Lilies debut
Kildare 3-20Cavan 1-9

Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

NOT the Hollywood ending that was scripted. The scene was set for Seanie Johnston to be the hero, or the villain, on his return 'home'.

But by the time he was introduced after 61 minutes, the game was long over as a contest, and while his late point was the last score of the game, it was merely academic.

He landed a close-range free after Niall McDermott's over-zealous 'welcome back' challenge, which was as much about the optics as anything. He has played for Kildare now and scored for them, and against his native county too. It is, thankfully, finally all over.

Rattled

The match itself was always going to be overshadowed by his presence in Breffni Park. Had Johnston still been kicking around these parts, it's hard to imagine almost 15,000 people would turn out for what turned into another routine day for Kildare in the qualifiers under Kieran McGeeney.

Cavan were in the game for 15 minutes, after which they were just two points behind (0-5 to 0-3), but by the time the short whistle blew it was all over. Kildare had rattled off 2-6 to Cavan's solitary point before the break as the energy ran from their legs with each effort they kicked wide or dropped short.

The 2-11 to 0-4 interval deficit was never going to be made up.

At times Kildare, who had notably moved away from blanket-bombing Tomas O'Connor, as they had done in the loss to Meath, showed all that is good about their side.

Mikey Conway's goal on 20 minutes started with a Cavan point attempt that dropped short. Emmet Bolton, operating at wing-back after lining out at midfield against Meath, galloped upfield after taking possession from goalkeeper Shane Connolly.

He used Johnny Doyle and then fed O'Connor, whose lay-off enabled Conway to almost walk the ball to the net.

Their second major had a large slice of luck about it. O'Connor's fluffed attempt fell kindly to the superb Bolton, who made no mistake.

Cavan made changes at the break but resisted the notion of packing their defence, playing three orthodox full-forwards for much of the game. The industrious Eugene Keating got his reward with a goal after the restart when he cleverly outfielded Peter Kelly and calmly rolled the ball to the net.

But otherwise, normal service was resumed as the Lilies dominated.

Doyle landed a point in his 60th consecutive championship appearance, while Dermot Earley was introduced at midfield and also kicked a point. Earley's Sarsfields clubmate Alan Smith capped a fine performance with Kildare's third goal late on. He sidefooted to the net after James Kavanagh's shot was stopped on the line by a recovering Joshua Hayes.

"Our lads tried hard but we didn't convert chances," Cavan manager Terry Hyland lamented. "When you kick wides and drop balls short, the confidence goes out of fellas and I think that's what happened.

"We started both halves well but we lost our confidence -- that's an age thing -- and part of our development that we have to sort out.

"They are at a better level of conditioning than we are. That's something we know we have to work on.

"It's not a new issue, we know we have to get ourselves to a different level. It's a two-to-three-year programme, really."

Johnston's introduction was met with loud cheers from the large travelling support that largely drowned out the few boos that could be heard. Killian Clarke was marking him initially before Ronan Flanagan took over, shaking his former team-mate's hand in the process.

He took a while to get a touch of the ball and when he did, Padraig Fogarty seemed to shovel it off, as much to get him involved as anything. Johnston pulled the trigger under pressure and the ball went wide.

Ironic cheers greeted the miss but they were soon stifled when play was called back for a free.

Johnston, who might have been able to hear the noise from Breffni in his home house close by, didn't shirk the chance and stepped up to score and end one of the GAA's most contentious sagas of recent years.

"I would have liked to have put it to bed four or five months ago," Kildare boss McGeeney said. "He was playing well at training this week. He deserved a chance, so he got it."

Johnston was surely a relieved man afterwards. There was the surreal sight of him signing autographs for supporters in white -- and not blue -- as he politely declined an interview.

And while Hyland didn't rule out a return to Cavan for Johnston further down the line -- insisting the player would have to make that decision -- he did admit the saga might have unsettled his players.

"It has been a circus and it has been crazy stuff all week with what has been going on, with cameras running around the place. Good luck to Seanie, he's a good footballer but he's not an All Star and good luck to Kildare, they are progressing but they haven't won any All-Irelands yet."

SCORERS -- Kildare: A Smith 1-5, E O'Flaherty 0-8 (7f), M Conway 1-4 (2f), E Bolton 1-0, J Doyle, D Earley, S Johnston (f) 0-1 each. Cavan: E Keating 1-1, N McDermott (3f), J Brady (3f) 0-3 each, G McKiernan 0-2.

Kildare -- S Connolly 7; A MacLochlainn 6, P Kelly 6, H McGrillen 7; E Bolton 8, M O'Flaherty 8, E Doyle 7; M Foley 7, R Kelly 8; E O'Flaherty 7, M Conway 8, J Doyle 6; A Smith 9, T O'Connor 8, J Kavanagh 6 Subs: O Lyons 6 for MacLochlainn (43), D Earley 7 for Foley (52), R Sweeney 6 for Conway (57), S Johnston for E O'Flaherty, P Fogarty for T O'Connor (both 61).

Cavan -- J Reilly 6; D Reilly 6, K Clarke 6, J McLoughlin 6; T Corr 6, D Tighe 6, R Flanagan 7; G McKiernan 7, P O'Reilly 7; N Smith 6, K Meehan 7, D Givney 6; N McDermott 6, E Keating 7, J Brady 7 Subs: J Hayes 6 for D Reilly (34), M McKeever 6 for Tighe, R Maloney-Derham 6 for Givney (both h-t), D McKiernan 6 for Corr (46), F Flanagan for McLoughlin (64).

Ref -- Marty Duffy (Sligo).

Irish Independent

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