Flynn on fire as 'burning' Lilies hailed by O'Neill
Kildare 3-20 Fermanagh 0-18
Had Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher been offered a closing tally of 18 points before Saturday's match in Navan he might have thought long and hard about accepting on the basis that their defensive parsimony could see them through.
Only once in 11 competitive League and Championship games under his stewardship had they gone beyond that mark (1-16 against Derry), but here they had no answer to the power, pace and growing confidence of a Kildare team that were 'locked on' to a place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals after overcoming a hazardous qualifier journey.
Is it really only six weeks since they came unstuck against Carlow? The transformation from then until now has been quite remarkable.
They really looked the part for 52 minutes, with their bodies filling those white shirts in a collective athletic stride across the scorched turf .
Events around Newbridge last week will inevitably be seen as their moment of catharsis, but it had been building nicely through Owenbeg and Longford and that word 'potential', that makes them a little squeamish in the county, always hovers over them.
For three-quarters of this fourth round qualifier they lived up to what so many feel they are capable of; running intricate angles and lines and stringing together moves they probably wouldn't have tried in May.
"I think that's the best we played this year by a long shot," acknowledged manager Cian O'Neill afterwards.
It was a performance bursting to get out, he felt, as they amassed a 14-point lead by the 52nd minute.
"The management could see it, the players could see it. This wasn't luck, this wasn't fluke. You don't go to Owenbeg, to Pearse Park, then play the 'second-seeded' team in the country, then do what we did here with luck," he said.
"This was burning inside, the performance for the first three quarters. We just weren't able to bring it out, express ourselves against Carlow. Credit to Carlow, they did a fantastic job that day in shutting us down. There is always the other side of it too."
Central to it was Daniel Flynn at full-forward, mesmerising with his movement on the ball. He finished with 1-3, one of the points may well have been a goal and his electrifying pace had Fermanagh in a spin all night.
Debate over what position Flynn best serves the team will have subsided after this qualifier campaign.
Kildare got the right men on the ball to break down Fermanagh, with their runners Paul and Keith Cribbin and Kevin Flynn - the season's revelation for them at half-back - consistently punching the holes to make Fermanagh turn.
And yet it was a ball over the top from Fergal Conway in the seventh minute for Daniel Flynn to take down, with Che Cullen in his slipstream, and elegantly finish for the opening goal that presented open road for them.
Kildare were targeting that throughout, isolating Daniel Flynn and Kevin Feely in the hope that their aerial advantage would cut out the barricades further outfield.
There was great economy in their play in that first half: 1-13 scored, just two wides from Paul Cribbin and another free dropped short by Neil Flynn into goalkeeper Patrick Cadden's hands.
Fermanagh, on the other hand, struggled and were unlucky with the bounce after an Eoin Donnelly shot dipped, hit the underside of the crossbar and landed on the line before spinning back out.
Kildare led by 1-13 to 0-5 and while Fermanagh did gain some ground it was short-lived, as Paddy Brophy, Conway, Tommy Moolick and Eoin Doyle put together an intricate move for Neil Flynn to bat home a second goal on 45 minutes.
Conway was provider all night, but his 51st-minute point ensured every one of the starting 'front eight' scored from play.
With the next few weekends in mind, Kildare ran the bench, taking off some of their hard runners and getting fresh legs in.
They lost momentum - O'Neill attributed some of that to fatigue, which on the night and after recent weeks was understandable - and there'll be an element of disappointment that they didn't keep the foot to the floor.
For that, Fermanagh deserve some credit.
Tomás Corrigan and Sean Quigley came off the bench to contribute five points between them and the obvious question, in hindsight, was why they hadn't started in the first place.
But coming off only a sixth ever Ulster final appearance, after the build-up they enjoyed, was always going to be difficult. They've got a lot from the season.
O'Neill batted away any sense of personal vindication after a difficult early part to the season as manager that invited criticism for him and the team.
"The biggest critic I have is the inner critic inside me," he said.
"The second group of critics I worry about are the backroom and players. What happens around that is just noise because I know last year when things were going well, everything was great.
"This year, when things were going poorly - even though they weren't as bad as the league table presented, but seven losses is seven losses - we knew we weren't that far off it.
"Listen, it's not nice, don't get me wrong. When it steps from professional to personal it's definitely not nice.
"But as I always say to the guys, whatever happens (within) the four walls of these dressing rooms, that's sacred to us."
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