Struggling Lilies lucky to live to fight another day
Kildare 1-21 Longford 3-15
Tom Hanks could have been describing the Kildare footballers when he uttered that famous line in Forrest Gump, because "you never know what you're gonna get".
Rarely has there been a side to mix the good with the bad as much as the Lilies and Cian O'Neill was left bemused after they let sizeable leads slip on several occasions in a crazy Leinster SFC clash in Bord Na Móna O'Connor Park yesterday.
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Seven points up in the 42nd minute having extended their half-time lead with a trio of scores from play, they retreated into a defensive shell and lacked the killer instinct to put the final nail in Longford's coffin.
Huge credit is due to Padraic Davis's side as they refused to wilt, and a goal from Mark Hughes - with his first touch following his second-half introduction - sparked a stirring comeback, but Kildare played a huge role in their own downfall.
Only two points - both frees from the brilliant Adam Tyrrell - would follow for the remainder of the half as they limped to the finish line and were nearly caught at the death.
Had James McGivney's last-gasp point attempt in normal time snuck inside the post, it would have been a famous upset, but not an unexpected one as Kildare don't carry any air of confidence about them at present.
It was the same story in two bizarre periods of extra-time as they raced into a three-point lead with successive scores to start in style, before Mickey Quinn barrelled over the line at the end of that half.
No scores would follow in the second half of extra-time, with referee Niall Cullen blowing up before the allocated three minutes of additional time was played in a 10-minute period where the game was stopped for longer than the ball was in play.
O'Neill's charges look nothing like the side which downed Mayo in the 'Newbridge or Nowhere' clash last summer, but he hopes that the fans keep the faith in difficult times.
"No-one's more disappointed than us. Stick with us. Last year it would have been very easy to walk away and desert us after Carlow and look at the great journey we went on," O'Neill said.
"It probably feels like a defeat, after Wicklow was the same thing. But the performances are very close to being significantly better. A few execution issues, a bit of decision-making, and you could see a totally different team.
"But it's up to us to make sure those changes are made coming into next week. It's very much a mixed bag. Consistency is my job. I'm the manager. That has to come back to me."
Davis praised his side for their ability to bounce back when defeat looked likely, while the Longford supremo had no hesitation in questioning some debatable calls from Cullen.
"People who are looking at Longford football for long enough would say, 'here is the run coming from the big county, we are going to be brushed aside.' But, that didn't happen.
"It probably would have happened in my day playing, and did more often than not. It doesn't seem to be happening with these guys. They just keep coming for more," Davis said.
"Overall, we deserved to get another crack at it. I thought the officialdom kept killing our momentum every single time that we tried to get going and the same did not apply going the other way.
"I think it was clearly evident. I don't think it was a balance and that's all we're looking for. I do accept that anybody on a given day can just have a poor one. I thought we came out on the wrong side of that today."
Kildare opened with four points courtesy of rampaging defender David Hyland (two), Ben McCormack and Tyrrell, but three needless frees - converted by David McGivney - and another from his brother James quickly had Longford level.
A pulsating first quarter saw scores flying over at either end, with Daniel Mimnagh on top form for Longford, while Tyrrell was sensational for the Lilies and helped to pull them level at 0-7 each after 21 minutes.
Kildare took a chance by pressing high on some of Paddy Collum's kick-outs but it backfired spectacularly in the 22nd minute when Darragh Doherty fired to the net after Kildare's defence was left badly exposed.
The Kildare response was encouraging, however, as they kicked the next four points, before Tyrrell lashed the ball to the net after Collum could only parry a shot from David Slattery into his path and they then surged into a four-point lead at the break, 1-12 to 1-8.
Three points on the resumption had Kildare in cruise control, but they sat back against a stiff breeze and invited Longford on to them, and the McGivney brothers led the charge.
When Hughes fired to the net in the 54th minute - after a misplaced kick-out by Mark Donnellan - Longford were within a point (1-15 to 2-11) and they later levelled before James McGivney almost snatched victory.
Further drama followed in extra-time, but Dublin were made to wait before learning their semi-final foes.
SCORERS - Kildare: A Tyrrell 1-7 (3f), D Hyland 0-4 (0-1 mark), B McCormack 0-3, F Conway, J Hyland 0-2 each, P Brophy, E O'Flaherty (f), C Hartley 0-1 each.
Longford: D McGivney (4f) and J McGivney 0-4 each, M Hughes 1-1, D Doherty, M Quinn 1-0 each, D Mimnagh 0-3, J Keegan, B McKeon, A McElligott 0-1 each.
KILDARE - M Donnellan 5; M Dempsey 6, D Hyland 9, M Hyland 6; P Kelly 6, E Doyle 6, K Cribbin 6; K Feely 6, F Conway 7; D Slattery 7, B McCormack 7, E O'Flaherty 5; A Tyrrell 9, P Brophy 6, N Flynn 5. Subs: C Hartley 7 for McCormack (half-time), N Kelly 6 for O'Flaherty (50), J Hyland 7 for N Flynn (56), T Moolick 6 for Conway (67), C McNally 6 for Tyrrell (68), McCormack for Brophy (71 ET), K O'Callaghan for Slattery (88).
LONGFORD - P Collum 6; P Fox 7, A Farrell 6, B O'Farrell 6; CP Smyth 6, P McCormack 7, D Quinn; J Keegan 7, D McGivney 7; G Rogers 6, B McKeon 6, M Quinn 7; D Mimnagh 8, J McGivney 8, D Doherty 6. Subs: J Hagan 6 for Farrell (black card 52), M Hughes 7 for Doherty (53), S Kenny 5 for Rogers (59), A McElligott 7 for Smyth (65), R McEntire 6 for Kenny (76), C O'Donoghue 6 for Cribbin (half-time ET), Doherty for Hughes (87), Smyth for O'Farrell (92).
REF - N Cullen (Fermanagh)