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Kildare back in top flight

ALL kinds of everything for Kildare in Salthill yesterday. A silky-smooth opening, a near second-half collapse, an injury-time penalty. But the eventual upshot of it all was a promotion back to Division 1 with a last-gasp and utterly dramatic 2-12 to 0-18 draw with Galway in Pearse Stadium.

Johnny Doyle's cool, almost nonchalant, spot-kick conversion, 74 minutes and 15 seconds in after a blatant foul from Galway corner-back Kieran McGrath on Emmet Bolton, sparked an outbreak of celebration from Kildare players and fans alike but, noticeably, not so much from Kieran McGeeney.

"It's nice," was as celebratory a reaction as McGeeney offered, no doubt still miffed by the collective brain freeze which had beset his team for the largest part of the second-half and threatened to end their promotion hopes and undo a near pristine first-half display.

"When you try and look at it clinically, for 15 or 20 minutes they seemed like they decided to lose their brains," said McGeeney. "Simple passes on, looking inside when there was a man standing 14 yards beside them. Just keep the ball moving. In fairness, that's what Galway were doing. But I can't fault their character."

Fluent

Nor could he find too many blemishes with most of a first-half exhibition of fluent football, one which, had their kick-out not malfunctioned to such a pronounced degree, would have resulted in a far greater cushion than the 1-9 to 0-8 scoreline provided.

Alan Smith, in particular, gave an exhibition of corner-forward play, moving off the Kildare target men in harmony with his inside colleagues and sniping four sweet scores.

Realistically, Kildare's dominance should have ensured a greater reward. They shot just a single wide but twice each Emmet Bolton and Eoghan O'Flaherty left shots inches short after typically thrusting breaks from deep.

The kick-out problem festered, though, and Galway's renaissance of four straight points within six minutes were a direct result of a greater reading of Shane Connolly's restarts.

Still, the second-half looked set up for Kildare to kick on but, remarkably, Galway missed two goal chances within 90 seconds of the restarts.

First, Connolly pulled off a brilliant save from Garreth Bradshaw after Galway poured through an absent Kildare cover and then - after goalkeeper Adrian Faherty had kicked his second point from the resultant '45' - Paul Conroy failed to capitalise on a three-on-one situation due to miscommunication from Padraig O'Neill and Hugh McGrillen.

But if Kildare thought they had been let off the hook, they were wrong. Suddenly, Galway were dominant in every battle across the middle third, while the Lillies adopted another form completely; a ponderous unit unable to execute the simple, effective ball-movement which had defined their first-half.

"I wouldn't say they fell apart, I'd say we played a lot better than they did," said Galway boss Alan Mulholland. "I would attribute it to us using the head a little bit more."

Galway kicked eight points to James Kavanagh's lone Kildare response between the start of the second half and the 66th minute, and the entrance of Padraig Joyce looked to have altered the game utterly.

Three points - one free - seemed to have buried Kildare but, amazingly, the Lillies had their own saviour, Dermot Earley, another survivor of the 1998 All-Ireland final.

Unleashed into full-forward, he immediately scored a point and then won a final Hail Mary ball, which broke to Bolton who, right in front of referee Eddie Kinsella was reefed to the ground by McGrath.

"Coolness personified," was how McGeeney described Doyle's penalty. "Cometh the hour cometh the man. In fairness, he had a bit of a debate (over who was going to take it) with Mikey Conway. The elder man was always going to win that one."

For his part, Mulholland said: "It was a major sickener of a finish." But he can stand over a Division 2 campaign which ranks as solid a spring as the Tribesmen have had in some time.

Kildare, for their part, are back among their fellow All-Ireland contenders and can jet off for their training camp in Portugal next week safe in the knowledge that they have another crack at Tyrone in the Division 2 decider on April 29.

"It's great to get another game between now and the championship," said McGeeney.


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