Friday 15 December 2017

Kavanagh sparkles as Jekyll and Hyde Lilies sink Farney

Kildare's Dermot Earley gives chase to Monaghan's Darren Hughes during Saturday's SFC qualifier at Croke Park. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile
Kildare's Dermot Earley gives chase to Monaghan's Darren Hughes during Saturday's SFC qualifier at Croke Park. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile

KILDARE'S footballers successfully completed their marathon five-game back-door odyssey to make it into their third consecutive All-Ireland SFC quarter-final, despite still veering worryingly from Jekyll to Hyde mode.

Saturday afternoon's victory in Croke Park was a lot more comprehensive than this scoreline suggests as the Lilywhites kept their 100pc qualifier record under manager Kieran McGeeney.

But questions were inevitably asked about their second bad start on the trot and why they failed to turn the knife after they had inserted it soon after the restart.

Monaghan were thankful they didn't, because they couldn't have stomached much more humiliation after being blitzed in the Ulster final and clearly laboured after the ridiculously short six-day turnaround.

Their team selection was more closely guarded than the Third Secret of Fatima beforehand, but once Padraig McBennett was spotted practising kick-outs, it was clear that he was replacing injured goalkeeper Shane Duffy.

Injury also forced out full-back John Paul Mone as he joined centre-back pivot Vinny Corey on the sideline, forcing a complete reshuffle of their defence.

Yet manager Seamus McEnaney refused to use that, or their difficult short turnaround, as an excuse, pointing out that they started well, getting the two opening scores and holding a three-point lead after 24 minutes.

The depleted Farney Army then came to an abrupt stop, failing to score for the next 21 minutes, while the Lilywhites racked up seven unanswered points to knock all the remaining fight out of them.

The warning signs were there early on when three different Monaghan players miskicked diagonal passes out over the sideline.

It wasn't like Kildare were any great shakes themselves in the first half.

For the second week in a row they had a game of 'two halves', not scoring until the 12th minute.

By half-time they'd kicked nine wides, including six from regular top-scorer John Doyle.

SARDONIC

A sardonic cheer went up when he finally got on the scoreboard with a short free just before half-time to give the Lilies a one-point lead (0-6 to 0-5).

But the arrival of Eoghan O'Flaherty and Ronan Sweeney off the bench helped their radical improvement.

O'Flaherty scored with virtually his first touch, Padraig O'Neill missed a goal chance soon after and the Lilies then hit fourth gear at last with brilliant scores from James Kavanagh and Eamonn Callaghan.

Kavanagh scored twice before the break and was immediately to the fore on the resumption.

The Ballymore giant first took over the free-taking role from Doyle and sliced over a peach and then got two more inspirational points to help pull Kildare six points clear.

Eoghan O'Flaherty's cheeky attempt to chip the 'keeper soon after the break only resulted in a point, but it signalled that Monaghan's depleted energies were seriously flagging.

Their goal-line was finally breached in the 52nd minute when Doyle did well to keep a ball alive in the corner, got it to Kavanagh, who ghosted in along the endline and unselfishly laid off for Sweeney to punch home.

Before throw-in, Ken Donnelly and Alan Smith were 11th-hour replacements for Sweeney and Eoghan O'Flaherty. But when Donnelly and O'Neill picked up yellow cards by the half-hour mark, they were hauled off and once sprung from the bench both Sweeney and Eoghan O'Flaherty wasted no time in making their mark.

Callaghan, who started at wing-back, was also shifted to wing-forward after the break and this also made a difference. Yet, with Doyle misfiring, had Kavanagh not stepped up to the plate -- he saw off Colin Walshe and Darren Hughes before Damien Freeman switched on to him -- things could have got sticky.

That Kildare then tagged on a further seven misses in the final 15 minutes was worrying as they let Monaghan score 1-4 in that period and failed to show the necessary ruthlessness.

Admittedly, they were by then operating a two-man full-forward line of Sweeney and Smith against a flooded defence. Monaghan's problem was that their lack of a midfield platform allowed Kildare to hoover up so much breaking ball and stopped their half-backs playing their usual supporting and attacking role.

Walshe and Dermot McArdle were both called ashore early, while Conor McManus had a second consecutive quiet day.

While Monaghan had 10 scorers, only Paul Finlay managed to find the target more than once, and only after he was shifted to midfield in the second-half.

That was testament to another brilliant team display from the Kildare backs. Peter Kelly, Emmet Bolton and Brian Flanagan were outstanding. Flanagan's work rate was phenomenal.

The same sort of work rate was exemplified by Callaghan in the dying minutes, who made a vital shot-block in his own square and then raced upfield to score a point. Dermot Earley's loss -- he had run himself into exhaustion -- helped Monaghan to fight back and substitute Hugh McElroy threw them a lifeline with a 67th-minute goal.

A Paul Finlay free reduced it to four, but when he looked for a goal with another effort, Daryll Flynn intercepted it close to the crossbar.

Darren and Kieran Hughes, Finlay, Rory Woods and the Freemans battled to the end, but the physical and mental exertions of a hectic week definitely caught up with Monaghan.

Scorers -- Kildare: J Kavanagh 0-5 (0-1f), R Sweeney 1-1, E Callaghan, E O'Flaherty 0-2 each, J Doyle 0-2 (0-2f), E Bolton, D Flynn, A Smith 0-1 each. Monaghan: H McElroy 1-0, P Finlay 0-3

(0-1f), D Freeman, D Hughes, O Lennon, K Hughes, S Gollogly, C McManus (0-1f),T Freeman, C Hanratty 0-1 each.

KILDARE -- S McCormack 7; P Kelly 9, H McGrillen 8, A Mac Lochlainn 8; E Callaghan 8, E Bolton 8, B Flanagan 9; D Flynn 8, D Earley 8; J Doyle 6, P O'Neill 5, M O'Flaherty 6; A Smith 7, J Kavanagh 9, K Donnelly 5. Subs: E O'Flaherty 8 for Donnelly (28), R Sweeney 8 for O'Neill (h-t), G White 7 for Earley (58), K Cribben 7 for Bolton (61), D Whyte 6 for M O'Flaherty (63).

MONAGHAN -- P McBennett 7; D Hughes 8, D Mone 6, C Walshe 5; D Freeman 6, G McQuaid 6, D McArdle 6; O Lennon 7, D Clerkin 5; P Finlay 7, R Woods 7, K Hughes 6; C McManus 5, C Hanratty 6, T Freeman 6. Subs: S Gollogly 6 for Hanratty ( 41), K Duffy 6 for McArdle (46), H McElroy 7 for Walshe (51), F Caulfield 6 for Clerkin (58), M McElroy 6 for McManus (63).

Ref -- J White (Donegal).

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