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Smullen strike steers Lilywhites into final

GAVIN SMULLEN scored the crucial goal as Kildare qualified for the decider for the first time since 1976 by overcoming Down at Pairc Tailteann.

Smullen struck late in a windy first half to spur on the Lilywhites.

Manager Glen Ryan admitted: "The goal was crucial and came at just the right time for us. Down were getting a little bit on top and, in games like that, if you do manage to get a goal against the breeze, it makes a massive difference."

The sides were level at the end of the opening quarter, after Alan Smith and Mark Watters had swapped scores with Ciaran Brannigan and Paul McComiskey.

Down began to dominate, and McComiskey and Brannigan added further points to put their team ahead by 0-6 to 0-2 before Smullen grabbed the priceless goal which left it 0-7 to 1-3 in favour of Down.

Kildare - backboned by team captain Gary White - added further points through Smullen, Eoin O Flaithearthaigh and substitute Joseph Cocoman.

Kevin McKernan and McComiskey kept Down in touch, but Ryan's charges took hold in the closing stages and Smullen and Smith steered over the scores that secured a final date with Kerry.

SCORERS -- Kildare: G Smullen 1-2, A Smith 0-3 (2f), S Fahy 0-2, M Waters, C Cocoman, E O Flaitheartaigh 0-1 each. Down: P McComiskey 0-6 (3f), C Brannigan 0-3 (2f), K McKernan.

Kildare -- N McConnell; C Brophy, D Brennan, S Murphy; J Browne, G Whyte, T Byrne; M Waters, N Higgins; D Whyte, E O Flaithearthaigh, K Kelly; S Fahy, A Smith, G Smullen. Subs: J Cocoman for Kelly, H McGrillan for J Brown.

Down -- M McAllister; M Digney, C Murney, J Murphy; C Garvey, K Duffin, T Hanna; J Colgan, J Caldwell; C Maginn, K McKernan, P McComiskey; C Brannigan, C Magee, R Kelly. Subs: B Rooney for Murphy, P Downey for Magee C Killen for Maginn, K Anderson for Caldwell, J O'Reilly for Branningan.

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Ref -- P McGovern (Galway).

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