Saturday 24 February 2018

Toothless Rebels run ragged by hungry Lilywhites

Kildare’s Cathal McNally celebrates a score against Cork in Thurles last night
Kildare’s Cathal McNally celebrates a score against Cork in Thurles last night

Dermot Crowe

Cork hopes of putting the disappointment of losing the Munster final replay defeat to Kerry quickly behind them were demolished by a rejuvenated Kildare in the fourth round of the qualifiers at Semple Stadium last night. A 1-21 to 1-13 win for Jason Ryan's side sets up an All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry on Sunday next, and granted Kildare its first Championship win over Cork in 87 years.

The result is a significant one for Kildare, regularly chastised for not defeating top six opposition. Since being defeated by 19 points by Dublin in the Leinster semi-final, they've followed a course of recovery through the qualifiers, and this was their most accomplished display of the season. Cork were laboured and suffered early set-backs when James Loughrey was black-carded and midfielder Alan O'Connor went off with what looked a serious injury.

They had no answer to a Kildare team full of running, and that opened brightly with two excellent scores from Niall Kelly. While a fine point from play by Colm O'Neill had Cork level, they were playing second fiddle for much of the half, heading into the break 0-5 to 0-11 down.

Kildare grew in confidence and moved the ball smartly, kicking a string of scores, the last of the first half from Ollie Lyons raising a huge cheer from their followers. Cork were bereft of ideas, second to the ball, toothless in attack.

Brian Hurley, dropped for the game, started the second half and had a hand in the opening score for Mark Collins, before Fintan Goold had a goal chance soon afterwards which would have brought Cork right back into the match. Instead, his palmed effort came back off the crossbar with Kildare's defence stretched.

The cost of the miss was demonstrated when Kelly scored a Kildare goal in the 39th minute. Cork might have been within two points of Kildare; instead the gap widened to eight.

A Hurley snapshot was saved by Mark Donnellan in the 52nd minute at a stage when Cork trailed by 11 points, and worse followed when Kevin O'Driscoll was red-carded. O'Neill scored a goal from a free with 13 minutes left and a Hurley point reduced the lead to eight points, but Kildare kept attacking and adding to their total.

Earlier in the day, Fermanagh overpowered Westmeath 1-13 to 0-7 to reach the quarter-finals, where they will face Dublin on Sunday next. Pete McGrath's men were level at half-time in Breffni Park, 0-5 apiece, and struggled for long periods of the first half, trailing 0-2 to 0-5 at the half-hour mark. They were additionally hampered by the loss of Ryan McCluskey and Marty O'Brien to black cards, with their manager claiming afterwards that McCluskey's card was unjust.

Three Tomás Corrigan points before the interval gave them a new lease of life and, in the second half, they dominated the match. Westmeath's prospects were made all the bleaker when John Connellan left injured and they only managed two scores over the entire half. They went into the game without leading marksman John Heslin, injured in the Leinster final defeat by Dublin.

Fermanagh put the result beyond doubt when top scorer Corrigan got the game's only goal seven minutes from the end, cooly chipping the ball over Gary Connaughton.

In the curtain-raiser, Dublin minor hurlers eventually wore down Antrim's resistance to book an All-Ireland semi-final date with Tipperary on August 16. Their 2-22 to 2-11 included an 11-point contribution from free-taker Matthew Oliver. They led by six points at half-time and pulled clear after conceding a goal to Christy McNaughton in the 43rd minute, Antrim's last score.

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