Kildare boss McGeneey demands more clinical edge for Dubs test
KILDARE 0-19 OFFALY 1-12
A LITTLE bit of GAA history was made when Hawk-Eye technology was used for the first time at Croke Park but, alas, there was little else memorable about this match.
As expected, given their improvement under new manager Emmet McDonnell, Offaly gave a far better account of themselves against their neighbours than last year's 13-point mauling.
But 1-2 of their total came in the final four minutes, including Graham Guilfoyle's penalty, and the qualifiers beckon once again for the Faithful County, who still haven't won a game in Leinster since 2007.
And Kildare? Well that depends on whether you're a glass half-full or half-empty type.
Fifteen of their 0-19 came from play, they were never in any real danger and they drew some spectacular saves – especially in the first half – from goalkeeper Alan Mulhall, who reprised his brilliance of last year.
With Fionn Dowling and David Hyland coming off the bench, seven of Kildare's U-21s made championship debuts, and Paul Cribbin, Niall Kelly and Daniel Flynn really rose to the challenge.
Cribbin and Kelly scored 0-4 apiece in a half-forward line that contributed 0-12 from play.
Yet Eoghan O'Flaherty outshone them, with the highlights of his tireless stint coming in the first half when Kildare were still struggling to shake Offaly off their tail.
But here's the rub. This was not the sort of filleting of a lower-order side that Cork and Kerry have handed out recently. After several seasons of criticism for not troubling the net much, Kildare scored a dozen goals in Division 1 this year. Yet they couldn't bag one against the beaten Division 4 finalists, repeatedly looking laboured and hesitant in front of goal.
And while the Flynns thoroughly dominated Offaly's kick-outs, Kildare sometimes struggled to secure their own.
After trailing by three – 0-10 to 0-7 – at half-time Offaly shut up shop and left just two men up front, which added to the laborious and uninspiring nature of some of the football.
Apart from a few trademark Johnny Doyle heroics – off alternate boots and wings – the Lilywhites lacked penetration and speed inside the 20m line, something which certainly will not do against the Dubs.
Manager Kieran McGeeney bet his house on the U-21s and, one silly hand-pass by goalkeeper Mark Donnellan apart, they rewarded his faith. But he admitted to being "disappointed" at his team's failure to close this one out after pulling eight points clear with four minutes of proper time left.
"Any way you win is a good way to win, but I get annoyed at sloppiness," he said. "They know that themselves, they don't have to be told.
"The last 10 minutes we should have been home and hosed but weren't and allowed them make a game of it."
Ollie Lyons was a late call-up for the injured Eoin Doyle, and Kildare were also without Padraig O'Neill, whose return from injury will increase their midfield options.
Like Offaly they completely reshuffled their defence before throw-in and Peter Kelly lined out at half-back. Eamonn Callaghan certainly vindicated his positioning and captaincy, physically and verbally bossing the defence with impressive authority, and Emmet Bolton was also outstanding.
The crowd cheered when Hawk-Eye was called upon to confirm that Peter Cunningham's shot into the Canal End was wide in the 46th minute, but that was pivotal for other reasons.
Two marvellous points from Niall McNamee and a '45' by Offaly's goalkeeping star Mulhall had just pulled the deficit back to two beforehand but, after Cunningham's miss, Kildare took off on a six-point run and kept Offaly scoreless for 22 minutes.
McNamee, who still scored 0-4, found himself isolated too often. Ken Casey and Guilfoyle also did well up front and Offaly's refusal to quit was admirable.
As their manager McDonnell pointed out: "We were ranked 31st at the start of the year and Kildare were in the top four or six."
McDonnell correctly assessed that the Lilies' superior physical and bench strength was the difference. He also felt a few refereeing calls didn't go Offaly's way, arguing that his side were disadvantaged by their league status.
But McDonnell insisted that Offaly will not suffer any cross-continent exodus now ahead of the qualifiers, revealing that he planned to have his side back training at 9.0 yesterday morning.
"The most important thing we realise is that this is the start of our championship, not the end," he said.
When asked about the players he recently dropped for missing a training session, McDonnell said: "They're three good lads and we're not saying the door is closed going forward."
Scorers – Kildare: J Doyle 0-6 (4fs), P Cribbin, N Kelly, E O'Flaherty 0-4 each, S Johnston 0-1. Offaly: N McNamee, K Casey (3fs) 0-4 each, D Hanlon 1-0 (pen), A McNamee, G Guilfoyle, N Darby, A Mulhall ('45') 0-1 each.
Kildare – M Donnellan 6; O Lyons 5, M Foley 6, H McGrillen 8; E Callaghan (capt) 8, P Kelly 7, E Bolton 8; Daryl Flynn 7, Daniel Flynn 8; E O'Flaherty 9, N Kelly 8, P Cribbin 8; J Doyle 8, T O'Connor 5, P Brophy 6. Subs: F Dowling 6 for Brophy (47), S Johnston 7 for Connor (55), M O'Flaherty 6 for E O'Flaherty (61), D Hyland 5 for Bolton (64), R Kelly 6 for Daryl Flynn (64).
Offaly – A Mulhall 9; P McConway 6, S Sullivan 8, D Brady 7; D Hanlon 6, B Darby 5, M Brazil 7; A McNamee 6, J Brickland 6; G Guilfoyle 7, B Connor 5, E Carroll 5; A Sullivan 5, N McNamee (capt) 8, K Casey 7. Subs: P Cunningham 6 for Carroll (27), N Darby 7 for Brazil (47), J Moloney 5 for Connor (51), R Allen 5 for Brickland (57).
Ref – R Hickey (Clare)
The game at a glance
Man of the Match
Eoghan O'Flaherty (Kildare) Paul Cribbin and Niall Kelly enjoyed impressive debuts but they were outshone by the more experienced half-forward who shot 0-4 from play and gave great leadership at both ends of the pitch.
Turning Point Offaly were only trailing by two when Anton Sullivan badly mis-hit a 33rd-minute free. Kildare's confidence was flagging at the time but they immediately kicked on to a four-point lead that raised their spirits.
Talking Point Kildare's inability to take their goal chances. Yes, Alan Mulhall pulled off some great saves but inside the 20m area the Lilies were hesitant and lacked the killer edge.
After 25 minutes Johnny Doyle shot from 'downtown' with his right foot and two minutes later did exactly the same from the opposite wing with his left peg. Pure class.
Westmeath quibbled with a few decisions and 28 frees in a clean first half seemed a little whistle-happy, but Rory Hickey was firm and consistent throughout.
What They Said
Kieran McGeeney (Kildare manager): "We were eight points up with 10 minutes left and had loads of possession but started throwing the ball away for fun. They should have pushed on and finished the game out instead of making it hard for themselves."
Emmet McDonnell (Offaly manager): "We're disappointed. We're not here for moral victories but there was about 10 minutes in the second half when their fitness and strength from the bench just overpowered us."
Wides: Kildare 11 (4 first half) Offaly 7 (3)
Frees: Kildare 23 (12) Offaly 25 (16)
Yellow Cards: Kildare 0 Offaly 0
Red Cards: Kildare 0 Offaly 0
Kildare now go on to play old rivals Dublin in a Leinster semi-final on June 30, while Offaly – after a much-improved display on last year – will at least go into the first round of the qualifiers with renewed confidence on June 29.