McGeeney delighted with Lilies character
NOW that's entertainment with a capital 'E' -- so take a bow the players of Kildare and Meath who inspired 5,000 spectators into a frenzy of excitement at Pairc Tailteann on Saturday night.
There were only two League points at stake, but such was the intensity and ferocious commitment of the teams that the fans could be excused for thinking they were watching a Leinster final.
In a heart-stopping finish, Meath half-back Shane McAnarney's injury-time attempt to break a 2-11 to 0-17 deadlock ended in the ball rebounding off an upright.
And within a minute a final Kildare raid ended with corner-back Ollie Lyons becoming the Lilywhite hero as he punched over the winning point.
The scoreline meant disappointment for Meath, who were seeking to maintain their 100pc record, but huge relief and satisfaction for Kildare, who had lost their opening two League games.
Side-by-side with reflections on the result is an assessment by the managers of the strength of their squads at this time of year and in that respect, Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney and his Meath counterpart Seamus McEnaney both had positives to take.
Kildare threw everything at Meath in the opening 20 minutes but some erratic shooting and a missed 10th-minute goal attempt by Mikey Conway -- the ball flew over for a point -- stopped them capitalising fully on their dominance.
Meath, as ever, grittily dug deep and hauled themselves back into the match late in the first half, and the second half was an evenly-balanced, hectic, unrelenting, but fascinating contest.
Crucial to the outcome was the utilisation by the two managers of their subs.
McGeeney said: "Eighteen points is good considering we probably missed a few and dropped a few short as well. It's a good return.
"The thing for me was that Meath got two goals -- and I wouldn't be happy with the way they got them -- but our fellas never quit. Even with a couple of minutes left they showed great character to come back and win it.
"It was great to get the likes of Morgan (O'Flaherty) back and Mick Foley, Emmet Bolton and those kind of players who were coming back from injury. Peter Kelly as well.
"If I had perfect timing I would have had them back for the first two games. People might not like to hear it but we are not here to entertain. We are here to get points and if we entertain along the way then we are happy with that too."
McEnaney was heartened by Meath's performance level.
"I'd say from a neutral's point of view it was a fantastic match but I'm disappointed for us to lose it. I would be very encouraged by the performance but disappointed with the result," he said.
"I couldn't ask any more of those players tonight. They gave me everything. We played 20 players tonight -- the five substitutes worked tremendously well.
"This is what I'm looking for. It's a 20-man game for us. It's seriously competitive in training. There were two or three men very unlucky not to start tonight but everything's in Meath's hands at the moment."
Once referee Michael Collins started the game, Kildare took hold around the packed middle of the field, winning 10 of the first 11 Meath kick-outs.
On the 20-minute mark they led by 0-6 to 0-3, but in that period they had missed four chances while Meath had three wides, but garnered points by Paddy Gilsenan, Micky Burke, and Cian Ward.
Gilsenan and Ward were left isolated up front for long periods while the pressure was on Meath, but over the last 15 minutes of the half, the home side began to lift the siege and make some telling forays forward.
McAnarney's 21st-minute point reduced the deficit to just two and scores by Chris O'Connor and Stephen Bray from a free brought them level at 0-6 each after 28 minutes.
Once again, Kildare rallied, with O'Flaherty and Eamonn Callaghan kicking scores that gave them a half-time lead of 0-8 to 0-6.
As an indication of the ebb and flow of the match, the sides were level nine times, with the 47th-minute goal by Gilsenan a significant moment.
Gilsenan linked with Bray, who lobbed the ball into sub Joe Sheridan and he deftly slipped it to Gilsenan who fired home from close range.
That put the scores at 1-8 to 0-11 and two minutes later, another sub, Tom Walsh, lashed over a point to give Meath another narrow lead.
Three more times between that score and the 64th minute when a third sub, Donncha Tobin crashed in Meath's second goal, the sides were level.
Tobin's score once again gave Meath a single-point lead, but Kildare sub Alan Smith rocked them back with yet another equalising point five minutes from full-time. Graham Geraghty's arrival in the 67th minute added to the excitement but ultimately the spoils went to Kildare with Lyons' late winner.
Man of the Match: E O'Flaherty (Kildare)
Scorers -- Kildare: E O'Flaherty 0-6 (3f), P O'Neill, O Lyons, E Gallagher 0-2 each, M O'Flaherty, A Smith, T O'Connor, M Conway, D Flynn, H McGrillen 0-1 each. Meath: P Gilsenan 1-2, S Bray 0-4 (3f), D Tobin 1-0, T Walsh, M Burke, C Ward, S McAnarney, C O'Connor 0-1 each.
Kildare -- S Connolly 6; A MacLochlainn 7, M Foley 6, O Lyons 7; E Bolton 7, M O'Flaherty 7, H McGrillen 7; D Flynn 6, P O'Neill 7; M Conway 7, E O'Flaherty 8, J Doyle 7; E Callaghan 7, T O' Connor 7, J Kavanagh 7. Subs: P Kelly 7 for M Foley (33), R Sweeney 7 for D Flynn (41), A Smith 7 for J Kavanagh (52); C Fitzpatrick 6 for A MacLochlainn (56), K Ennis for J Doyle (67).
Meath -- D Gallagher 7; M Burke 7, K Reilly 7, B Menton 7; G O'Brien 6, S McAnarney 7, C McGuinness 7; B Meade 7, M Ward 7; S Kenny 7, G Reilly 7, C O'Connor 7; P Gilsenan 8, S Bray 7, C Ward 6. Subs: D Tobin 7 for G O'Brien (25), J Sheridan 7 for C Ward (39), C King 7 for B Meade (48), T Walsh 7 for C McGuinness (56), G Geragthy for G Reilly (67).
Ref -- M Collins (Cork).