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Lilies hold out in the long run


Kildare celebrate winning the Leinster U-21 FC. Pic: Sportsfile

Kildare celebrate winning the Leinster U-21 FC. Pic: Sportsfile

Kildare celebrate winning the Leinster U-21 FC. Pic: Sportsfile

The crowds pouring into O'Moore Park after this Cadbury Leinster U21FC final had gotten underway bore testament to the uniqueness of the pairing for such a decider, and the importance placed on it by two sets of supporters starved of success.

Kildare had been expected to prevail, having been accorded the status as favourites for the All-Ireland final ever since they had accounted for Meath, while the previous fancies Dublin had bowed out.

The fact that it was Longford who had dumped the Blues seemed to escape most people's attention and the fact that they were such heavy underdogs for this Leinster final must have grated.

Once more, Eugene McCormack's charges produced a brilliant effort but Kildare's senior stars did enough damage in the opening three-quarters to ensure that it was the Lilywhites celebrating provincial glory for the first time at this level since 2008.

Kieran McGeeney's crew raced into a four-point lead after nine minutes, with Seán Hurley, Fionn Dowling, Pádraig Fogarty and Niall Kelly on target.

Longford had their own dangermen in Mark Hughes and Robbie Smyth. The duo had steadied the ship with a couple of frees before Hughes kicked their first score from play in the 23rd minute. His final effort was a marvellous one and left Longford trailing by just 0-9 to 0-5 at the interval.

Kildare had a penalty after just 22 seconds, though, when Hurley was hauled down and Paddy Brophy sent Paddy Collum the wrong way from the spot. Longford began winning the breaking ball at midfield. They showed plenty of resolve as Hughes, Darren Gallagher and Smyth gradually chipped away but when Thomas Moolick drilled one over from 40 metres in the 42nd minute, the gap was still seven.

The belief continued to grow within Longford though, as Kildare withdrew into their shell. Barry McKeon (free), Gallagher, David Mimnagh and James McGivney raised white flags

One of the game's key passages of play arrived eight minutes from time, when Hughes rounded Kildare goalie Mark Donnellan and had the goal gaping. As he shot, Cribbin came from nowhere to get a block in. Who knows what would have happened had the former AFL man not made that vital intervention.Kildare might have made it easier on themselves had they not kicked some poor wides late on, but with Fergal Conway inspirational at centre-back, they held Longford at bay through five minutes of injury time.

The Lilies face the Connacht champions (Roscommon or Galway ) on Saturday, April 20 in their All-Ireland U21FC semi-final