Healy the inspiration as Kildare take minor title
Kildare 2-15 Westmeath 2-7
AFTER the hurt of watching their senior side dismantled at Croke Park just two weeks earlier, the Kildare minor footballers collected the county's second Leinster underage football title of the year in impressive fashion.
Following on from their U-21 provincial success, the young Lilies justified their favouritism to collect a first title at this grade since 1991.
In doing so, they overcame two tragedies that hit the squad recently. Man of the match Chris Healy's uncle died on Saturday while another panelist, Craig Shannon, buried his mother last Friday. In defeat, Westmeath were also handed a sharp dose of perspective as after the game centre-forward Alan Hughes was also told of the death of his grandfather.
Tommy Carr's Westmeath side were underdogs but they came with a plan. Bryan O'Donoghue was named at centre-back, and while he lined out at full-forward, he quickly went back to man the central channel with the help of Liam Varley, a senior county hurler.
Initially, Carr's plan seemed to work and with Luke Loughlin seeing plenty of ball in the full-forward line, the Lake County opened up a two-point lead.
Kildare soon started to show some of the form that saw them breeze past Dublin. They reeled off seven points without reply, including four in a row from the boot of Wayne Fitzpatrick.
The Monasterevin man's first from a difficult free brought the sides level before he pushed them in front with another placed ball from a similar position. He then got two more as Kildare established a midfield foothold.
Liam Cassidy stopped the rot for Westmeath to land Westmeath's first score in 20 minutes on the brink of half-time. But Healy replied to leave five points between the sides at the break (0-8 to 0-3) and were it not for some wasteful shooting, the Lilies might have been out of sight.
Westmeath threatened briefly on the restart but after Darragh Clinton had cut the gap to three, Kildare struck for their first goal as Mark Sherry netted.
They were growing in confidence and with just over 15 minutes to go they scored another goal, this time through the impressive Healy, who pounced on a loose ball in the square.
Things went from bad to worse for Westmeath with the dismissal of substitute Clinton on a second yellow card but, to their credit, they rallied.
A goal from a Loughlin penalty and an Israel Ilunga point closed the gap. Andrew McCormack scored a second goal but there was still too much daylight between the sides.
"We've had some really hard trials this week," said Kildare manager Brian Murphy. "One of our lad's mother died and Chris' (Healy) uncle died last night so they have showed tremendous character to respond with a performance like that out there.
"I'm thrilled for everyone in Kildare football. There are many great people who have been involved who won't get any credit for this and they are what makes Kildare football."
SCORERS – Kildare: C Healy 1-3, W Fitzpatrick 0-6 (2fs), M Sherry 1-0, N Flynn 0-2 (1f), B Byrne, C McMonagle, L Flynn, P Connell 0-1 each. Westmeath: L Loughlin 1-3 (0-2fs, 1-0p), A McCormack 1-0, L Cassidy, D Giles (f), D Clinton, I Ilunga 0-1 each.
Kildare – S Dempsey; C McConnell, N Fleming, J Connolly; J Flynn, P Mescal, R Houlihan; P Connell, L Flynn; N Flynn, M Sherry, T Cribbin; W Fitzpatrick, C McMonagle, C Healy. Subs: B Byrne for Cribbin (34), D Maguire for Connolly (48), M Kelly for McMonagle (54), R McDermott for Houlihan (56), M Byrne for Sherry (58).
Westmeath – J Hyland; M Darling, I Ilunga, B Sayeh; A McCormack, L Varley, D Giles; R Caffrey, S Omokuro; R Cunningham, A Hughes, C Shanley; J Corbally, B O'Donoghue, L Loughlin. Subs: L Cassidy for Corbally, D Clinton for Hughes (both 27), R Hickey for Cunningham, D Lyons for Shanley (both 48), S Clavin for O'Donoghue (52).
Ref – D Gough (Meath)