Kildare power surge proves key
Irrepressible Doyle leads Lilywhites home as disallowed Geraghty goal foils Meath rally
There was a time when Meath football was synonymous with second-half surges which squeezed the resistance out of opposition, but they themselves were at the receiving end of that very same treatment in Croke Park yesterday as they became the first of the 2010 provincial champions to lose their title.
After an edgy first half where poor finishing greatly reduced Kildare's efficiency rating, they improved substantially on the restart and proceeded to outscore Meath by 0-11 to 0-3 over 35 minutes which certainly weren't short of drama.
Much of it focused on Meath, who had sub Brian Farrell sent off for what referee Syl Doyle adjudged to be a straight red card offence, when he clashed with Emmet Bolton in the 56th minute, before another sub Graham Geraghty was involved in the most controversial incident of the day.
Kildare were four points clear in the 63rd minute when a Meath attack set up Joe Sheridan, who hoisted the ball towards goal.
Geraghty, displaying the predatory instincts which yielded so much for Meath over many years, flicked the ball to the net, only to have the goal disallowed for a 'square' infringement following consultation between the referee and his umpires.
It was a borderline call, but, crucially, it went against Meath at a time when a goal would have brought them right back into contention.
Kildare availed of the reprieve and powered on to an impressive finish, scoring three more points in the closing minutes, while a pointed '45 by Paddy O'Rourke, who played instead of the listed No 15 Cian Ward, was Meath's sole response.
"When you score three points in any half, it's never enough," said Meath manager Seamus McEnaney, who now faces the difficult task of re-focusing his squad for the All-Ireland qualifiers.
He confidently predicted a positive response and is supported by precedent as Meath have used the qualifiers to good effect over the years. Still, they are heading for uncertain territory, unlike Kildare who have booked in for a semi-final date with Dublin on June 26.
They do so against a settled background where they are moving comfortably up through the gears. This was a much more rounded performance than their opener against Wicklow, even if they were again terribly wasteful, kicking 18 wides.
Still, as Kieran McGeeney pointed out afterwards, it's better to be missing chances than not creating them.
The Meath attack had to live off much more meagre rations, due mainly to their difficulties around midfield where they lost out to the busy endeavours of Johnny Doyle and a range of assistants who brought power and pace to their game.
Doyle was once again the main conductor, directing operations with intelligent precision, while also working extremely hard.
Emmet Bolton, Eamonn Callaghan, Hugh McGrillen, Michael Foley and James Kavanagh were also market leaders on a day when Meath didn't last the pace after a lively opening half.
They led by 0-7 to 0-5 at the interval, their narrow advantage the product of greater economy than opponents who created lots of openings only to be let down by poor shooting and questionable decision-making.
Shane O'Rourke, Paddy O'Rourke and Sheridan all did well in the Meath attack in the first half. Seamus Kenny was hugely effective off breaking ball, while his carrying and distribution also troubled Kildare.
Kildare obviously used the half-time break to good effect as they were far more precise on the re-start.
They put down an immediate marker when Doyle pointed in the first minute and they scored five more unanswered points in the next 14 minutes.
Meath's first-half momentum had disappeared, and as the error-rate increased, it looked as if Kildare might gallop to an easy win. Meath goalkeeper Brendan Murphy made some excellent catches from high deliveries, but had trouble unloading the ball on a few occasions.
Two Kildare points came from the resultant confusion, but although Murphy would later make amends with a great save from Kavanagh, who was also unlucky on another occasion when a pass in his direction was slightly off line as he careered in on goal.
Meath steadied midway through the half, cutting two points off the deficit, but Farrell's dismissal broke their momentum at a crucial juncture.
With Graham Geraghty warming up, the Meath crowd were baying for his introduction and a huge roar went up when he finally returned to championship football in the 60th minute.
It gave him 10 minutes to produce some magic and he thought he had delivered it with his flicked goal, only to discover than unlike last year's Leinster final when the gods smiled on Meath late on against Louth, they were looking the other way yesterday.
Meath were very unhappy with the decision to disallow the goal, but, overall, they could have no complaints about the defeat.
They simply couldn't cope when Kildare increased power early in the second half and were left trailing in the wake of the rampant Lilywhite marauders.
There was real menace in most of Kildare's movements, all of which were underpinned by a huge work ethic.
Their support play was outstanding, leaving Meath ankle-deep in frustration.
Meath's problems became all the more acute after Farrell's dismissal as the Kildare defence secured most of the approach routes to goal.
Still, Geraghty did find a way through, only to have his 'goal' disallowed in what was Meath's final throw of the dice.
Once again, Kildare had prevailed without scoring a goal, but their capacity to create point openings was most impressive and appears to be improving all the time.
That, combined with their energy and unity, makes them a formidable outfit, who are very much on an upward graph.
Scorers -- Kildare: J Doyle (1f), E Callaghan 0-4 each, E O'Flaherty 0-3 (1f, 1'45), J Kavanagh 0-2, A Smith, E Bolton, R Kelly 0-1 each. Meath: S O'Rourke (1f), P O'Rourke (2 '45s) 0-3 each, J Sheridan 0-2, S Bray, B Farrell (1f) 0-1 each.
Kildare -- S Connolly 7; A MacLochlainn 7, M Foley 8, H McGrillen 8; E Bolton 9, G White 6, M O'Flaherty 7; H Lynch 7, J Doyle 9; E Callaghan 9, E O'Flaherty 7, B Flanagan 5; J Kavanagh 8, T Connor 5, A Smith 6. Subs: R Sweeney 5 for Flanagan (26), R Kelly 7 for Connor (54), P O'Neill 6 for Sweeney (57), M Scanlon for MacLochlainn (66), T O'Neill for White (71).
Meath -- B Murphy 5; G O'Brien 6, K Reilly 7, S McAnarney 6; J Queeney 6, B Menton 6, C Lenehan 5; N Crawford 5, B Meade 6; S Kenny 8, J Sheridan 7, G Reilly 5; S Bray 6, P O'Rourke 7, S O'Rourke 7. Subs: M O'Sullivan 6 for Lenehan (24), M Ward 7 for Crawford (41), B Farrell 5 for Bray (42), P Gilsenan 6 for G Reilly (51), G Geraghty 6 for McAnarney (60).
Ref -- S Doyle (Wexford)