Lilies hold off Royals

Kildare survive a battling final quarter from Meath

Frank Roche

SOMETIMES, the result isn't everything -- but it certainly helps.

Meath departed St Conleth's Park licking their wounds after a fourth Allianz League defeat in five outings left them mired in the Division Two relegation zone. But that didn't stop Seamus McEnaney from declaring himself "absolutely delighted" with yesterday's performance.

A more jaundiced assessment from the Newbridge stand? Meath were far better than the recent standard but they could scarcely be worse.

In truth, 'Banty' was guilty of mild exaggeration in describing their valiant fourth-quarter efforts to salvage something from a game that started in junior 'B' fashion and finished in a blizzard of brilliant scores, excitement and controversy.

But at least the embattled Monaghan native now feels he has something to build on for summer.

For Kieran McGeeney, the outlook looks brighter still after a 1-14 to 1-12 triumph that was significant on several fronts for Kildare. Firstly, and more immediately, it bolsters their promotion hopes, having leapfrogged over Laois and Derry into second place in the table with seven points.

Secondly, while they ultimately blitzed Meath in Croke Park last August, they have endured some recent spring setbacks against the Royals: pegged back to parity when chasing promotion two years ago, then faltering late on to a five-point defeat last April.


Here, again, was a contest that Kildare looked to have in the bag when leading by four points -- until Hugh McGrillen's ill-judged hand-pass coming out of defence was pounced on by Joe Sheridan, who teed up Shane O'Rourke for a 57th minute goal.

Even before this gift-wrapped potential lifeline, the contest had gradually improved in quality after a first half strewn with crass errors, turnovers, and generally lacking the intensity you'd expect from a must-win derby between two bitter rivals.

But O'Rourke's goal was the catalyst for a grandstand finish: every time Meath edged back to within one, Kildare delivered a scoring riposte of their own.

That mental fortitude will have pleased McGeeney even more than the individual master class delivered by Rob Kelly, the second-half contribution of veteran Ronan Sweeney or the injection of ball-winning brio that came with the 55th-minute introduction of 19-year-old Fionn Dowling.

"When we gave the goal away, I thought it was a case of history repeating itself," McGeeney admitted. "We did the same in Navan last year when we were on top ...

"I wouldn't have chosen to do it that way, but it was good to see the fellas react in the right way."

Even in two-point defeat -- a result that sees them fall behind Sligo into seventh place -- McEnaney accentuated the positives. Clearly, this was light years removed from the horror-show display against Donegal and the Meath boss also revealed that Kevin Reilly, Stephen and David Bray, Graham Reilly and Peadar Byrne should be back in contention for their next outing away to Derry on April 3.

"It's Meath's first performance of the year," he enthused, later describing it as the "start" of their season. With relegation looming, did he feel under pressure? "Absolutely not," he replied.

"We put a serious bit of fight into it. We conceded a goal and it probably was the difference in the end; but listen, I couldn't complain about the Meath players today, (they) absolutely gave it everything."

The aforementioned goal -- finished with aplomb by skipper Johnny Doyle -- came after 21 minutes of a soporific first half that finished with Kildare 1-5 to 0-5 ahead.

Not surprisingly, Rob Kelly's slick lay-off to release Emmet Bolton into space was the pivotal pass of the move that led to Doyle's three-pointer.

The Straffan clubman missed almost all of last season with recurring knee trouble.

Now injury-free, he kicked four sublime points -- three off his left, one off his right -- while delivering some critical late assists in his target-man role.