O'Neill just happy to see Kildare 'get through that' after Wicklow drama
Kildare 0-15 Wicklow 1-10
Once again Kildare's capacity to create unnecessary drama manifested itself in Carlow on Saturday night, when they allowed what looked like being a routine win over Wicklow turn into a white-knuckle battle for survival in the Leinster Championship.
Though they led by seven points on three occasions in the second-half, they still found themselves willing the referee to blow the final whistle after being outscored 1-2 to 0-1 in the final 16 minutes of play - the referee played six minutes of added time.
"We're just glad to get through that," acknowledged Kildare boss Cian O'Neill, whose side was dumped out of last year's Leinster Championship by minnows Carlow.
"It was a match we should have sown up very early with our level of dominance and assertiveness all over the pitch.
"Our execution let us down. I think it was at 35-36pc. At this level, no matter what standard or division, any time you leave a team in with a chance they can come back and hurt you and that's what happened late on," he acknowledged.
Based on their respective league placings, Kildare were ranked 17 places ahead of Wicklow, but the underdogs traded scores with the Division 2 side in the early exchanges. The teams were level, 0-3 each, after 12 minutes with Mark Kenny punching holes in the Kildare full-back line.
Gradually the Lilies turned the screw and their decision to press up on Wicklow's restarts paid a handsome dividend. It forced goalkeeper Mark Jackson to go long with his kick-outs and with Man of the Match Kevin Feely ruling the skies - he secured seven marks - Wicklow only won six of Jackson's 16 kick-outs in the first-half.
Such was their monopoly on possession that Kildare ought to have been out of sight at the break, but while they led 0-9 to 0-4 they kicked seven wides.
Wicklow boss John Evans acknowledged that his side struggled in the first-half.
"We were trying to get up to the tempo of the game and it took us a while," he said.
There was little sign of a Wicklow revival in the third quarter, though a defence-splitting run from team captain Dean Healy in the 47th minute ought to have put the Kildare defence on full alert. The midfielder blazed his shot wide across the face of the goal, but it was a portent of things to come.
By the hour mark, with Kildare leading 0-14 to 0-8, a trickle of fans were heading towards the exit when they were halted in their tracks.
Healy embarked on another powerful run through the centre and this time he offloaded to Darren Hayden, who found the net from close range.
Now just one score separated the sides, and all the momentum was with Wicklow. However, their composure deserted them when they needed it most, with goalkeeper Mark Jackson missing two frees and Mark Kenny also squandering a chance which allowed Kildare scrape home.
"I'm very proud of the lads, they way they battled. The belief is coming back into Wicklow football," suggested Evans, who was noticeably more upbeat afterwards than Cian O'Neill.
Kildare now advance to meet Longford in the quarter-final in Tullamore on Sunday week, while Wicklow await their fate in the qualifier draw.
Scorers - Kildare: A Tyrell 0-5 (4f), E O'Flaherty 0-4, (2f, 1 45), B McCormack 0-2, D Hyland, F Conway, P Brophy, 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, T Smith, P O'Toole, C McGraynor (f), D Keane 0-1 each.
Kildare - M Donnellan 7; M Dempsey 6, M Hyland 7, D Hyland 7; P Kelly 7, E Doyle 8, K Cribbin 6; K Feely 9, F Conway 7; D Slattery 6, B McCormack 7, E O'Flaherty 7, A Tyrell 7, P Brophy 6, J Hyland 6. Subs: C O'Donoghue 6 for Cribben; N Flynn 7 for O'Flaherty both 49, C Hartley 6 for McCormack 55, T Moolick 6 for Slattery 60, J Hughes 5 for Tyrell 63.
Wicklow - M Jackson 7; E Murtagh 6, R O'Brien 7, J Snell 7; D Deveraux 7, S Mooney 6, D Fitzgerald 7; D Healy 8, P O'Toole 7, D Hayden 7, A McLoughlin 6, T Smith 6; M Kenny 7, C McGraynor 6, P O'Connor 7. Subs: C McGee 6 for McLoughlin ht; C O'Brien 6 for McGraynor 44, O Manning 6 for Mooney 47; D Keane 7 for Hayden 68; S Kieron for O'Toole 70 +1.
Ref - N Mooney (Cavan)