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McGeeney keeps feet on ground as Kildare sink Dubs

Whatever about this being a match Kildare had to win, it was one they certainly couldn't contemplate losing.

A pre-season provincial competition it may have been but there were markers to be laid down by a team determined to ramp up the pressure in the months ahead on the 'big three' in Gaelic football.

Naturally, Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney chose to play the 'O'Byrne Cup in January' card. To talk it up as anything else wouldn't be wise, not from someone without a propensity for inflated remarks in a public forum.

"I wouldn't be reading too much into it," said McGeeney dispassionately afterwards. "It seems to be more important for youse (media) than it was for me. There seemed to be a lot of writing about it." If the media have over accentuated the significance of the fixture then the Kildare crowd did too.

Some 6,086 turned up in St Conleth's Park for this semi-final but they made the noise of a 10,000 gathering and when their team were putting the squeeze on Dublin midway through the second half, the crescendo of approval grew louder.

Put simply they knew the importance to these players of claiming the scalp of the All-Ireland champions, who they know they will most likely have to beat in a Leinster final in July if results go according to script.

Victory, however, was never going to have the same consequences as defeat. To lose would have perhaps inculcated doubts about their ability to beat this Dublin team.

Dublin had just five of their All-Ireland-winning starting team (and a few influential substitutes) and McGeeney acknowledged that they were doing little more than "experimenting".

But it quickly developed into quite a contest, the tight confines of the Newbridge pitch and the nature of the tackling and defensive orientation on both sides leaving space at a premium.

In that environment, frees were awarded by referee Eddie Kinsella at a rate of a little more than one a minute while the yellow card count finished at 11, seven for Kildare.

Both sides lost players to second yellow cards, Kildare's Eoghan O'Flaherty off after 30 minutes, a decision McGeeney felt was "a wee bit harsh" while Dublin's Paul Brogan picked up his two yellows in a five-minute spell just after half-time.

Pat Gilroy has grown accustomed in his four years to such strict early policing but also detected some disciplinary flaws which have crept into their game and, he suggests, need to be ironed out.

"Referees seem to be very strict in O'Byrne Cup type matches; there seem to be an awful lot of frees for innocuous things. I didn't think either one of them was a sending-off but at the same time, strictly speaking, they were so we just have to live with that.

"It's a part of our game that wasn't particularly good today, we weren't particularly disciplined so it's something we need to address for sure."

Michael Darragh Macauley's substitution after only 19 minutes may have been related to that comment with Gilroy admitting that there had been "messing going on" between him and his opponent prior to that.

While the result, the resolve to close down Dublin players and their general approach work and support play will have been very pleasing for Kildare, their level of execution wasn't. This was a game they should really have won by more on the basis of the possession and chances they had.

Two instances in the second half spring to mind. Mikey Conway's quick free to Ronan Sweeney which he subsequently kicked wide unchallenged and Fionn Dowling dropping the ball into Michael Savage's hands after a very good build-up. These are the positions they frequently don't exploit.

The miss shouldn't take from Sweeney's performance in getting forward so relentlessly from midfield.

He looked a rejuvenated figure here and, together with Daryl Flynn, can lay claim to whatever victory there was in the middle third.

Alan Smith showed some nice touches early on while Tomas O'Connor was lively but it was the resolve of their defence that stood out most.

Peter Kelly was turned a few times by Peadar Andrews but eventually won his battle while Ollie Lyons and Brian Flanagan snapped relentlessly at the heels of opponents. Tommy O'Neill also broke intelligently from centre-back.

Hugh McGrillen made a significant impact on his introduction for the second half . He scored a point and delivered the ball for O'Connor to claim and earn a penalty that Sweeney converted, the decisive score on 46 minutes which pushed the game away from Dublin as the deficit grew to four, 1-6 to 0-5.

Up to that they had been in touch, trailing 0-5 to 0-4 at the break as Mossie Quinn's free and a sideline conversion kept them well in contention.

Sweeney's penalty was quickly followed by a Conway free from 45 metres and a James Kavanagh point and while Dublin did respond through Quinn again and Cullen, the tight, tense nature of things had changed and there was more freedom for the last 20 minutes. In that period Kildare didn't put it away as they should have but they were still comfortable.

Gilroy had no problem acknowledging afterwards that the "livelier, better" team had won. Ahead of the Kerry game they'll have an internal match next weekend but won't have Alan and Bernard Brogan or Denis Bastick, who has had minor shoulder surgery, for the commencement of the league.

Kildare meet DCU in next weekend's final but with that game so close to DCU's opening Sigerson Cup fixture on Tuesday week, the university team may not be at its strongest.

That won't unduly concern Kildare one way or another. For now they have achieved all that they would have wanted in the early part of the season.

Scorers -- Kildare: R Sweeney 1-1 (1-0 pen), M Conway (1f), A Smith (1f) 0-3 each, J Kavanagh, F Dowling, H McGrillen, R Kelly all 0-1 each. Dublin: T Quinn 0-5 (4f, 1 s-l), B Cullen, P Andrews, B McManamon all 0-1 each.

Kildare -- S Connolly; P Kelly, C Fitzpatrick, O Lyons; E O'Flaherty, T O'Neill, B Flanagan; D Flynn, R Sweeney; P O'Neill, M Conway, T Moolick; A Smith, T O'Connor, J Kavanagh. Subs: H McGrillen for Moolick (h-t), F Dowling for Smith (47), R Kelly for P O'Neill (47), E Callaghan for Kavanagh (57), G White for Sweeney (60).

Dublin -- M Savage; M Fitzsimons, S Murray, D Daly; C O'Sullivan, G Brennan, D Byrne; MD Macauley, R McConnell; B Cullen, K McManamon, P Brogan; P Andrews, E Fennell, T Quinn. Subs: D Connolly for Macauley (19), D Lally for Brennan (46), B McManamon for Quinn (52), G McIntyre for Andrews (59), J Small for O'Sullivan (69).

Ref -- E Kinsella (Laois)

Irish Independent