Tuesday 12 November 2019

Kildare outshine champions

DAMIAN LAWLOR in Croke Park

AT about 17 minutes past four the Donegal team ran out onto a deserted Croke Park pitch for their pre-match warm-up before tackling Kildare in yesterday evening's Division 1 opener.

DONEGAL 1-13

AT about 17 minutes past four the Donegal team ran out onto a deserted Croke Park pitch for their pre-match warm-up before tackling Kildare in yesterday evening's Division 1 opener.

With under 100 spectators in the ground there was scarcely a whimper as the All-Ireland champions took the field; a far cry from their last appearance at Jones Road. They immediately huddled together, no doubt setting the bar for the season ahead and duly started impressively against the newly-crowned O'Byrne champions, with Michael Murphy hitting three early points.

From there until the final 20 minutes, however, things went south.

They lost Colm McFadden with a hamstring injury and at half-time they replaced Frank McGlynn with a leg injury. Marty Boyle was also replaced after 31 minutes by Mark McHugh, and to compound matters the Ulster side looked on as Kildare roared ahead of them.

It must have been strange for the All-Ireland champions to be outfought, but for the vast majority of last night's encounter at HQ the hunters became the hunted.

It's hardly going to set off panic stations or anything – they lost their first two league games last year, after all. And they managed a resounding comeback in the second half.

But with an away game to Mayo next weekend it will be important to start picking up points.

They can, however, reflect on a massive display by Murphy, who carried the torch by himself in attack. He was a colossus as the game wore on, the only effective target the team could look to.

Ultimately, though, he looked on as a tight, mobile Lilywhite unit burst into life after a sluggish opening quarter and rattled up a nice lead. John Doyle was the catalyst: his range of passing, shooting and energy were out of the top drawer. Debutant Niall Kelly was named on the bench but started and also put in an impressive display with three fine points. He looks like a class act.

With him pulling the strings Kildare looked hungrier from the off; they seemed more fluid and tuned in.

The Leinster side stepped up to the mark, specifically in their attacking play, only to lose their composure near the end.

As Donegal roared back from six points down and closed in on them, alarm bells definitely sounded. But just as the game hung on a knife edge, Paul Durcan made a mistake from a Doyle shot and conceded a soft goal.

And even when Dermot Molloy responded with a Donegal goal soon after, the Lilywhites had enough in the tank to stay in front. They will look to the 17th minute and Tomas O'Connor's fisted goal as the platform for this win. O'Connor raised the green flag after Mikey Conway's free had come off the upright.

Throw in Doyle's usual excellence, Kelly's endeavour and fine scores from Brian Flanagan and it was easy to see why they led 1-7 to 0-5 at the break.

After 45 minutes they had extended that lead to 1-9 to 0-6 and with Donegal too reliant on Murphy's free-taking and class, it looked like one-way traffic. Without the injured Karl Lacey they didn't seem to possess the same drive and dynamism, and attacks frequently broke down.

With 20 minutes to go they it was clear they would need two goals to be anywhere near the mark, but it was hard to see where those scores would come from.

Still, after a few more scores from Murphy and a cracking point from McHugh, the lead was cut to three points. With 60 minutes gone that was down to one, with Molloy firing a smashing point to leave it 0-13 to 0-12.

But Conway's free and Durcan's mistake swung the momentum in Kildare's favour once more before Molloy goaled at the other end to leave but two points between the teams as the game entered its closing stages.

But the Lilywhites were able to pull clear again.

Scorers – Kildare: J Doyle 1-5 (3f), T O'Connor 1-0, N Kelly 0-3, M Conway 0-2 (2f), B Flanagan, P O'Neill, E O'Flaherty, P Brophy 0-1 each. Donegal: M Murphy 0-9 (6f), D Molloy 1-1, P McBrearty 0-2, (1f), M McHugh 0-1.

Kildare: S Connolly, O Lyons, P Kelly, H McGrillen, E Bolton, M Foley, M Conway, G White, P O'Neill, B Flanagan, D Flynn, N Kelly, S Johnston, T O'Connor, J Doyle.

Subs: P Brophy for S Johnston (55, ) E Doyle for E Bolton (60), E O'Flaherty for G White (62).

Donegal: P Durcan, M Boyle, N McGee, E McGee, F McGlynn, D Walsh, A Thompson, R Kavanagh, M McElhinney, R Wherity, L McLoone, R Bradley, C McFadden, M Murphy, P McBrearty.

Subs: D Molloy for C McFadden (10, inj), M McHugh for M Boyle (31), D McLaughlin for F McGlynn (h-t)

Referee: C Reilly (Meath)

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