Thursday 14 December 2017

Kildare stick to script and stroll into semi-final


Kildare’s Daniel Flynn battles for the ball with Johnny Moloney
Kildare’s Daniel Flynn battles for the ball with Johnny Moloney
Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

KILDARE'S cruise into the Leinster senior football semi-final went according to script as they established a three-point lead in the first half thanks to some top-class kicking from Johnny Doyle and Eoghan O'Flaherty.

After a shaky start to the second period they settled into the game, with their young and inexperienced players performing well on the big stage. Manager Kieran McGeeney was especially impressed with how his debutants fared.

"They were all flying," he said. "You can't ask for more, there were eight points between two of them in the forward line – it's hard to argue with those facts. Paddy Brophy won every ball given to him, every single one stuck to him. Daniel Flynn was exceptional in midfield, he won loads of premier possession for us. Maybe the older boys have to look to the younger ones to see how it's done."

However, it was Offaly's Niall McNamee who opened the scoring with a well-taken shot off his left foot. Within two minutes, Kildare took control and worked the ball up the field, Paul Cribbin tried a quick shot at goals, which was tipped over the bar for a point by Offaly goalkeeper Alan Mulhall.

O'Flaherty doubled Kildare's lead and, soon after, Doyle popped over his first free of the evening to make it 0-3 to 0-1. The opening quarter was a tight and tense affair with plenty of heated exchanges around the park.

With a little more than 10 minutes on the clock, Kildare showed their experience when O'Flaherty snuck inside the Offaly full-back line and forced their 'keeper to pull off his second close-range save of the day, tipping the ball over the bar once again. "He is a great 'keeper," said McGeeney of Mulhall. "He did the same last year, he pulled off three great saves. The one from Eoghan O'Flaherty was an exceptional save."

A long-range point from Doyle followed and Kildare stretched their lead to 0-6 to 0-4. Offaly replied with a couple of points but Doyle, O'Flaherty and debutant Niall Kelly all kicked scores for the Lilywhites to send their side in at the break with a three-point cushion.

Kildare got on the score-sheet first in the second half with a point from Cribbin to make it 11 points to seven. Kelly added another one moments later but Offaly answered with three points of their own, one from Mulhall from a '45'. The momentum swung Offaly's way and McGeeney was not happy with how his side reacted.

"I was disappointed that we got sloppy in the second half. We knew they were going to come at us, they are strong, fit and have a great manager in place who knows what he is at."

After 46 minutes, Hawk-Eye was used for the first time to make a call on a shot taken by Offaly's Peter Cunningham, which was ruled a miss.

Kildare rallied and after a flurry of well-taken points were 0-16 to 0-10 ahead with 10 minutes to go. In the last minute, Offaly's David Hanlon was foot-blocked by Kildare 'keeper Mark Donnellan; he was awarded a penalty and slotted it home. However, it was too late and the Lilywhites ran out the victors.

Offaly manager Emmet McDonnell learnt a lot from yesterday's game. "We are disappointed, we are not here for moral victories," he said. "For a 10-minute stage in the second half their fitness and strength on the bench overpowered us. We will take a lot out of the game; we are six months training at the level we are at now, whereas Kildare are six years training under Kieran McGeeney."

Although Offaly showed form in the league, earning promotion to Division 3, the challenges Kildare faced in the top flight stood to them, and their young players such as Kelly and Cribbin looked right at home in Croke Park. Five debutants started for the Lilies and two more came on to the park later on.

Meanwhile, Kildare captain Eamonn O'Callaghan recently revealed he has taken three months of unpaid leave from the gardai in order to concentrate on recovering from injury and give more time to football.

Yesterday, his dedication to the cause bore fruits as his side now march on to a Leinster semi-final. For Offaly, it is full steam ahead for the qualifiers. McDonnell revealed after the game that training was scheduled to start at 9am.

"We are training at a very good level and we are working very hard, our plan is to meet at nine. In previous years maybe Offaly haven't done that. We will regroup then, nothing crazy, we will stretch lads out, we realise that this is the start of our championship, not the end."

Scorers – Kildare: J Doyle 0-6 (4f), P Cribbin, E O'Flaherty, N Kelly 0-4 each, S Johnston 0-1. Offaly: N McNamee, Ken Casey 0-4 (3f) each, D Hanlon 1-0, G Guilfoyle, A McNamee, A Mulhall ('45), N Darby 0-1 each.

Kildare: M Donnellan; P Kelly, M Foley, H McGrillen; O Lyons, E Callaghan, E Bolton; D Flynn, D Flynn; P Cribbin, N Kelly, E O'Flaherty; J Doyle, T 0'Connor, P Brophy. Subs: F Dowling for P Brophy (46), S Johnston for O'Connor (54), M O' Flaherty for E O'Flaherty (61), D Hyland for Bolton (64), R Kelly for D Flynn (64).

Offaly: A Mulhall; B Darby, P McConway D Brady; E Carroll, S Sullivan M Brazil; A McNamee, B Connor; G Guilfoyle, J Brickland, D Hanlon; A Sullivan, N McNamee, K Casey. Subs: P Cunningham for E Carroll (27), N Darby for M Brazil (47), J Moloney for B Connor (51), R Allen for J Brickland (54), P McPadden for A Sullivan (56).

Referee: R Hickey (Clare).

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