Lilies get Royal appointment
Kildare 1-21 Laois 1-7
Nine points was Kildare's paltry return as they seemed to be gripped with fear when stuttering to a one-point win against Wexford 12 months ago in an abysmal Leinster SFC quarter-final, but they bore no resemblance to that side in O'Connor Park yesterday.
Cian O'Neill's men were far superior to a dismal Laois outfit and once they got motoring after a sloppy first quarter, the Lilies ripped through them at will, never having to venture out of second gear en route to a comfortable victory.
Donie Kingston's first-minute goal got the O'Moore men off to the perfect start, but that was as good as it got for Peter Creedon's men. They struggled to cope with Kildare's physicality, highlighted by a number of crucial turnovers in the second quarter, and the aerial brilliance of Kevin Feely.
It was level after 22 minutes, 1-2 to 0-5, but with both sides operating at different ends of the league spectrum next year (Kildare in Division 1, Laois in Division 4) the expected gulf in class wasn't long materialising and seven unanswered points left the Lilies comfortable at the break, 0-12 to 1-2.
When Daniel Flynn, making his first championship start in four years, fired a goal on 48 minutes it was all she wrote, as Kildare racked up 22 scores.
O'Neill highlighted their greater strength in depth this season, while also expressing satisfaction with their impressive scoring return in the absence of attackers Ben McCormack and Neil Flynn.
"A lot of people were questioning where the scores were going to come from. People questioned did we have the firepower with the two lads out, but we answered that today," O'Neill said.
"Lads came and put their hand up, as they have done in training. Everyone contributed in a huge way.
"It's great when you have them available. Last year we didn't even have the 26 with injuries. This year it's a different situation.
"If you look at who was out there today, 10 of that team weren't available last year and that to me is the biggest difference. The other thing is they've a year under their belt with the system we're trying to play."
Having watched Carlow compete physically with the Dubs on Saturday night, there was enough evidence on show in Tullamore to suggest that Kildare could cause the reigning All-Ireland champions a measure of trouble in a Leinster final, should they get there.
First, they must negotiate old rivals Meath in a mouth-watering semi-final in a fortnight's time.
For Laois, there's a lot more questions than answers after a virtual no-show and Creedon rued their inability to create scoring chances.
"We just didn't get enough ball to the forward line. That was our problem. We only had 24 attacks and we're normally middle 40s. That's the difference. If you're not getting the ball up front you can't score," the former Tipperary boss said.
"We prepared really well over the last few weeks and trained really hard. The players are disappointed and we are disappointed for them. We felt we could take this game down to the last 10 minutes, but Kildare were just too powerful."
Creedon doesn't see any problem motivating his deflated charges for the qualifiers, however, and expects them to "plough on" regardless of the opposition.
"There is a good spirit in the camp and they want to do well for Laois and themselves," he added.
The game was only 57 seconds old when Kingston, fresh from his man-of-the-match display against Longford, hit the net after using his frame to storm through the Kildare defence and fire low past Mark Donnellan.
The Lilies response was instant, though, as they reeled off four points in quick succession through Kevin Feely (free), a Donnellan '45 and two from Cathal McNally, as they quickly settled into their stride with the aid of a stiff breeze in the first-half.
Kingston, who was starved of possession at full-forward throughout, levelled with a placed ball before Flynn and Evan O'Carroll (free) traded scores, but that was the O'Moore men's last score of the half and it was all Kildare from there.
They dominated the midfield exchanges through Feely and Tommy Moolick, using the mark efficiently, and a string of turnovers from the hard-working Keith Cribbin.
Ollie Lyons also strode forward to point, quickly followed by a brace from Flynn, one each for the Cribbin brothers, Paul and Keith, Moolick and Niall Kelly, as they went in seven up at the break.
Laois needed to start the with a new sense of purpose after the interval, but they had to wait until the 49th minute for their first point from play as the Lilies killed off the game, kicking four quick-fire points through Johnny Byrne, David Slattery and two from Kelly.
Laois' sole response was a Kingston free and Flynn put paid to whatever small chance there was of a comeback when firing to the net.
Alan Farrell finally got Laois off the mark with a point from play, but only another two from play followed, both long-range efforts from sub Gary Walsh, as Kildare eased to a comfortable win and a juicy clash with the Royals.
That will be a different proposition altogether, but given where they started this time last year, signs suggest they are on the right road.
Scorers - Kildare: D Flynn 1-3, N Kelly and C McNally 0-3 each, P Cribbin and K Feely (1f) 0-2 each, M Donnellan ('45), T Moolick, K Cribbin, O Lyons, J Byrne, F Dowling, D Slattery, E Callaghan 0-1 each. Laois: D Kingston 1-2 (2f), G Walsh 0-3 (0-1 '45) E O'Carroll (f), A Farrell 0-1 each,
Kildare: M Donnellan 7; O Lyons 7, M O'Grady 7, D Hyland 7; J Byrne 7, E Doyle 7, K Cribbin 8; K Feely 8, T Moolick 7; F Conway 6, N Kelly 7, P Cribbin 7; D Slattery 7, D Flynn 8, C McNally 7. Subs: E Callaghan 6 for Conway (53), C Healy 6 for McNally and F Dowling 7 for Moolick (both 57), P Kelly for O'Grady and E Bolton for Flynn (both 65).
Laois: G Brody 7; D Strong 6, D Booth 6, J Kelly 6; E Buggie 6, P McMahon 6, D O'Connor 6; B Quigley 6, C Begley 5; N Donoher 5, J O'Loughlin 6, E O'Carroll 6; P Kingston 5, D Kingston 6, A Farrell 7. Subs: A Doran 5 for Donoher (20), G Walsh 7 for O'Carroll (42), R Munnelly 6 for P Kingston (52), K Meaney for Quigley and D Conway for Doran (both 64).
Ref - D Coldrick (Meath)
Game at a glance
Man of the Match: Keith Cribbin (Kildare). The main damage was done by the Lilies in the second quarter and the Johnstownbridge defender played a huge part with a series of big turnovers as well as kicking a fine point.
Talking point: The Laois side which obliterated Longford (scoring 4-15) was nowhere to be seen and they managed just three points from play in 70 minutes, the first after 49 minutes.
Magic moment: Donie Kingston’s goal after 57 seconds was a magnificent score as the powerful Arles-Killeen full-forward brushed aside three tackles before firing low past Kildare goalkeeper Mark Donnellan.
Ref watch: There were few major calls for Meath’s David Coldrick to make but the 2015 All-Ireland final referee got them on the button and was virtually anonymous throughout, always a good sign for a whistler.
Match statistics: Wides: Kildare 8 (5 in first half), Laois 6 (2). Frees: Kildare 12 (5), Laois – 13 (5). Yellow cards: Kildare 0, Laois 1 (John O’Loughlin (53). Black cards 0. Rred cards
What’s next?: Kildare will meet Meath in the Leinster semi-final in O’Connor Park on June 17, while Laois head for the Qualifiers.