Kelly leads way as Royals are rumbled
Kildare 3-17 Meath 0-16
It was only midway through the second half but the goings-on in Páirc Tailteann felt like watching a silent movie.
Before what is close to a full house in Navan these days with both ends behind the goals off limits, the atmosphere in the old ground was subdued and filled with the glum faces of the locals.
By that stage, their early season optimism had long since given way to the reality that they were facing a second home defeat to local rivals in the space of a couple of weeks.
What was more galling for the natives is that Meath were never really in this game. Ben McCormack, a much-vaunted talent in Kildare and making his full debut, had the ball in the net after just 14 seconds following an uncharacteristic error by Donal Keogan.
The sight of their best defender miscuing seemed to send panic through the Meath side and suddenly the simple things became onerous. Passes were overhit or undercooked, and hard-won possession was handed back. And while Meath were trying to work their way out of the quicksand, Kildare were operating at close to maximum efficiency. From their first six attacks, they hit 1-4.
Kildare looked in control for most of the afternoon but their second goal was a crucial score. Meath and Cillian O'Sullivan had a strong shout for a penalty denied and Kildare swept down the field to goal seconds later. That score helped Kildare open up a ten-point lead.
The Royals' full-back line was left hopelessly exposed at times and the Lilies might have grabbed another goal but Shane McEntee cleared Daniel Flynn's effort off the line.
The second quarter was Meath's best period and they had closed the gap to six points when O'Sullivan again broke through on goal only for Mark Donnellan made a good save.
A goal there would have left Meath just three points in arrears, something that would have flattered the home side. Instead they went in trailing by 2-7 to 0-7.
Royals boss Andy McEntee made two changes at half time in an effort to rejig his side. But Kildare, who gave the nod to 13 of the team that lost to Dublin's shadow squad, managed the game well.
They'd hit another 1-10 in the second half as Meath, not for the first time in recent seasons, proved too porous to make any real impact on the visitors' lead. Up front, O'Sullivan, Donal Lenihan and captain Graham Reilly kept trying and while there were a couple of goal chances, Meath never looked like they could reel Kildare in.
The Lilywhites had strong performances throughout the pitch. Eoin Doyle covered well. Kevin Feely showed why his decision to play football when a soccer career beckoned is such a boost to the county. Niall Kelly, Paul Cribbin and McCormack linked well in attack.
But as slick as they were at times, they met little in the way of meaningful resistance.
"We knew we had a performance in us - it just has never been there consistently for 70 minutes," Kildare manager Cian O'Neill mused afterwards. "All through the O'Byrne Cup we played in fits and starts. When we were good, we were very good. And when we were poor, we let teams in and they did damage.
"With the exception of the second quarter, we were in control of that game. That's full credit to the players."
O'Neill went on to suggest that the defeat to the experimental Dublin side had worked in their favour.
"Coming out of that semi-final, contrary to what some people think was the end of the world, for us it was a blessing in disguise. Because it gave us a sole focus with the full squad.
"Some of the comments I thought were disingenuous about the quality of that Dublin team. Our team was two years' younger on average. We had six 19- to 20-year-olds out there, made nine substitutions. A lot of context was lost in the great headlines - I'm not blaming ye (the media) because it was coming as much from the supporters.
"It was a huge disappointment to lose. We didn't perform. But we had to learn from it. And we did that today. But it was only one match."
Meath manager Andy McEntee rued his side's missed opportunities.
"You concede three goals, you're going to struggle to win any game, particularly a game at this level. So three goals, yeah, we couldn't scrape it back.
"I think we had four goal chances and we didn't take any of them, they had four and they took three of them. That's ultimately ... when we went forward with a bit of pace and a bit of purpose, we caused them trouble.
"But we didn't take our chances. Four goal chances, I think a reasonably claim for a penalty shout, maybe two, so, I suppose, if you don't take chances you're going to pay the price.
"I'd need to sit down and look at the video, I'm not going to name anybody. I'd need to see (what) happened but it looked like they were coming forward a little bit too easily. When we put the squeeze on them and turned over a bit of ball ... but again, that work rate just has to be higher all over the place."
Scorers - Kildare: N Kelly 2-2; B McCormack 1-3; P Cribbin, N Flynn (2fs) 0-3 each; K Cribbin 0-2; E Doyle, K Feely, O Lyons, D Flynn 0-1 each. Meath: D Lenihan 0-7 (5fs); G Reilly 0-4; C O'Sullivan, A Forde 0-2 each; B Menton 0-1.
Kildare - M Donnellan 7; M O'Grady 7, D Hyland 6, O Lyons 6; J Byrne 7, E Doyle 8, K Cribbin 7; K Feely 8, T Moolick 7; F Conway 7, N Kelly 8, P Cribbin 8; N Flynn 7, D Flynn 8, B McCormack 8. Subs: C McNally 6 for Conway (61), P Kelly 6 for O'Grady (62), S Ryan 6 for Byrne (65), E Callaghan for Kelly (67), D Slattery for McCormack, C Hartley for D Flynn (both 69).
Meath - J Hannigan 5; D Keogan 5, C McGill 5, M Burke 4; B Power 5, S McEntee 5, A Douglas 4; C O'Brien 5, B Menton 5; C O'Sullivan 7, A Forde 6, G Reilly 7; E Wallace 4, B Sheridan 4, D Lenihan 6. Subs: D McQuillan 5 for Burke (22 BC), R Ó Coileáin 5 for Power, A Flanagan 5 for Douglas (both HT), B O'Brien 5 for Sheridan (45), C Downey 5 for Wallace (52), W Carry 5 for McEntee (65).
Ref - C Branagan (Down).