Wednesday 13 December 2017

Meath's defence exposed by clinical Kildare power

Kildare 2-11 Meath 0-14

Dermot Crowe, in Navan

Meath are getting tired of seeing Kildare eclipse them in the championship -- this being the third surrender in 12 months -- but at least they left the field in Navan last night with some of the county's old virtues restored. Only in the final five minutes did they lose their grip on the mad hare that is the Kildare football team, a team that had jet-engined away from them in the last two encounters after the interval break.

This had looked like obeying a similar pattern at the halfway point. After a thrilling first half in which Meath played a great deal of the football, roared on by a feverish home crowd, Kildare led by two and must have felt they were in a good position. They faced the wind but Kildare's fitness is already the stuff of legend and Meath didn't look like they had done enough.

In the opening moments of the second half those fretting Meath followers can't have been comforted by the spectacle of Hugh McGrillen trespassing in their half before curling a delicate point. But Meath, heroically, did not give in or roll over. What cost them in the end was their failure to score enough and manage at least one goal. For a team that has made a habit of raising green flags this will go down as one of the night's gravest disappointments.

Cian Ward, vastly improved on the Galway game a week earlier, had one first-half effort deflected out for a '45' and in the second half he was denied by Shane Connolly from close range. But Meath didn't create much in that line. Kildare had an early penalty goal from John Doyle and a late strike from Emmet Bolton who by then had accumulated two points from play in upfield raids which helped in no small measure to deny Meath a famous night. Bolton was called ashore with a couple of minutes left and received a well-merited ovation from the travelling support, tremendously grateful for his interventions on a night when they must have chewed their fingernails to the quick.

Kildare withdrew half of their starting attack and the fact that Bolton was their top scorer, jointly with Doyle, and easily their leading marksman from play, tells us that it was not a vintage evening of Kildare forward play. That is down in no small part to a massive Meath effort, who showed incredible industry and some very good marshalling in defence, a sector which is a much more sealed version than what served the county last year.

Midfield struggled at times and Brian Meade, who was their best player against Kildare in last year's All-Ireland quarter final meeting, saw no more than 22 minutes. He had made some mistakes but Meade can consider him a bit unfortunate; there are few more honest; he is a relentless worker.

While Ward gave more up front, Stephen Bray looked dangerous when given good ball and Joe Sheridan played like a master puppeteer at centre forward, pulling the strings. Meath's good start -- Doyle's third minute penalty excepted -- petered out as the half progressed. Sheridan was involved in many of the early scores but he could not sustain his influence. Graham Reilly, a shadow of the player of last season, was given a start at full forward instead of Paddy O'Rourke and later withdrawn.

Down by two at the break they worked savagely hard to draw level. After McGrillen had stretched Kildare's lead to a goal Meath struck back with two Cian Ward points. Kildare looked to up the gears but they couldn't shake them off. The crowd of 20,000, an estimated attendance, became increasingly emboldened by Meath's tenacity and Kildare began to work their way through their bench, seeking some inspiration or method of altering the course of the game.

It took Kildare almost ten minutes to score after McGrillen's opener, a beautifully judged John Doyle free. Meath's response was indicative of the mood down on the pitch: a big point from Shane O'Rourke which had him pumping his fists. Soon after Seamus Kenny kicked one of the points of the season and they were level.

Suddenly they sensed an upset. Up stormed Padraig O'Neill but his goalbound shot was brilliantly saved by Brendan Murphy. Meath were possessed, Kildare rattled, but would it last? They needed goals and the energy expended to stay abreast of Kildare eventually took its toll.

Ronan Sweeney went into midfield. Brian Flanagan went on Sheridan. Meath were game but for all their efforts and Kildare's trials they could not get ahead. Seven minutes from the end Bolton got his second point to nudge them back in front. Suddenly the cracks showed. Sweeney kicked a point on the back of that momentum and then Bolton got on the end of an intricate move and punished a tiring Meath defence with a simple goal finish. They now face the losers of today's Ulster final in the fourth qualifier round next Saturday.

Scorers --Kildare: J Doyle 1-2 (1-0 pen; 0-2 fs); E Bolton 1-2; J Kavanagh, P O'Neill, E Callaghan, M O'Flaherty, F Dowling, H McGrillen, R Sweeney 0-1. Meath: C Ward 0-8 (0-5 fs; 0-2 '45s'); S Kenny, S Bray 0-2; S O'Rourke, B Farrell (f) 0-1 .

Kildare: S Connolly; A Mac Lochlainn, M Foley, H McGrillen; G White, M O'Flaherty, E Bolton; J Doyle, D Flynn; P O'Neill, E O'Flaherty, E Callaghan; R Kelly, T O'Connor, F Dowling. Subs: J Kavanagh for Kelly (23 mins); B Flanagan for White (half time); C Brophy for Dowling (47); R Sweeney for E O'Flaherty (55); O Lyons for Bolton (67).

Meath: B Murphy; G O'Brien, K Reilly, C King; C Lenehan, S McAnarney, M Burke; S O'Rourke, B Meade; P Gilsenan, J Sheridan, S Kenny; S Bray, G Reilly, C Ward. Subs: M Ward for Meade (23 mins); B Farrell for Lenehan (inj 29); J Queeney for G Reilly (45); A Moyles for Queeney (62).

Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).

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