Kildare cut it fine in unconvincing win
Kildare 0-15 Wicklow 1-10
Having fallen at the first hurdle to Carlow in last year's Leinster Championship, Kildare were rightfully cautious about last night's opener against Wicklow. And they had every right to be as they fell over the line against their Division 4 opponents.
Cian O'Neill's side appeared to be strolling to a routine victory when they led by six points on the hour mark. But then Darren Hayden's goal rocked them and they were less than convincing coming down the final stretch, adding just a single point from a free. Indeed, but for three missed chances in that period, Wicklow could have at least taken the contest to extra-time.
Kildare now meet Longford in a quarter-final in two weeks' time. For Wicklow, who reached the provincial quarter-final in 2018 after beating Offaly, it's a four-week break until the first round of the qualifiers.
Tradition favoured Kildare as they had only ever lost to Wicklow on two occasions in the Leinster championship in 1990 and 2008 - the former defeat proved a seminal one as it resulted in Kildare recruiting Mick O'Dwyer, who ultimately guided them to two Leinster titles, plus an All-Ireland final appearance in 1998.
The early exchanges were competitive, though both teams were guilty of playing too much football in the middle third of the field. Wicklow set up defensively, keeping just two players up front when Kildare had the ball.
The sides shared the first six points, all from play, with Kildare's Ben McCormack and Wicklow's Mark Kenny each kicking a brace in the first 12 minutes. But this was as good as it got for Wicklow.
Right from the start Mark Jackson was finding it difficult to find his men with his kick-outs, and Kildare's Kevin Feely made five eye-catching marks in midfield.
The Lilywhites kicked four points - two from frees and a '45' - on the spin to establish a 0-6 to 0-3 advantage, though they appeared to be getting the rub of the green when it came to the 50/50 refereeing decisions.
With Wicklow finding it increasingly difficult to keep possession from their own kick-outs - they lost six of their 16 in the first half - Kildare took control. They kicked four successive wides before Eoghan O'Flaherty ended a ten minute scoreless spell with a pointed free in the 30th minute and he added another soon afterwards after Kevin Feely won another Wicklow re-start.
Conor McGraynor converted a free in the 32nd minute for Wicklow's first score in 20 minutes. That left the Division 4 side trailing by five points at the break, 0-9 to 0-4. But the wides tally of 7-3 in favour of Kildare was as revealing about the pattern of the game as the scoreboard.
There was no discernible change in the pattern of play in the third quarter, with Kildare failing to convert their territorial advantage into scores, though Adam Tyrrell (free) and corner-back David Hyland did hit points, with Theo Smith replying with a rare score for Wicklow.
Midfielder Dean Healy showed commendable initiative by weaving his way through the Kildare defence but his rasping shot flew across and face of the goal and went wide in the 43rd minute. But he had shown what he was capable of.
With ten minutes left and Kildare now leading by six points, the team captain again split the Wicklow defence with a brilliant run before off-loading to Hayden, who blasted to the net.
Patrick O'Connor hit his second point to narrow the gap to two with eight minutes left but then it was Wicklow's turn to squander chances, with goalkeeper Jackson missing two frees and Kenny also missing a point chance.
A free from substitute Neil Flynn left it a three-point game again before Wicklow substitute Daniel Keane gave his side hope again with a point in the fourth minute of injury time. But Cian O'Neill's side out held out - though not particularly convincingly.
Scorers - Kildare: A Tyrrell 0-5 (4f); E O'Flaherty 0-4 (3f, 1 45); B McCormack 0-2; D Hyland, F Conway, P Brophy and N Flynn (f) 0-1 each. Wicklow: D Hayden 1-0, M Kenny and P O'Connor 0-2 each; M Jackson (f), D Healy, P O'Toole, T Smith, C McGraynor (f) and D Keane 0-1 each.
Kildare: M Donnellan; M Dempsey, M Hyland, D Hyland; P Kelly, E Doyle, K Cribbin; K Feely, F Conway; D Slattery, B McCormack, E O'Flaherty, A Tyrrell, P Brophy, J Hyland. Subs: C O'Donoghue for Cribbin; N Flynn for O'Flaherty (both 49m), C Hartley for McCormack (55m), T Moolick for Slattery (60m), J Hughes for Tyrrell (63m)
Wicklow: M Jackson; E Murtagh, R O'Brien, J Snell; D Deveraux, S Mooney, D Fitzgerald; D Healy, P O'Toole; D Hayden, A McLoughlin, T Smith; M Kenny, C McGraynor, P O'Connor. Subs: C McGee for McLoughlin (ht); C O'Brien for McGraynor (44m), O Manning for Mooney (47m); D Keane for Hayden (68m); S Kieron for O'Toole (70 +1)
Referee: N Mooney (Cavan)
Sunday Indo Sport