Kildare 1-12 -
SEVEN points from Seanie Johnston sealed Kildare’s place in the O’Byrne Cup final for the second year running.
Johnston scored the first and final points for the Lilies on a day when they triumphed with 14 men and survived a late scare from a lively home side in Tullamore. Niall McNamee had the perfect opportunity to level the game in the 68th minute but sent his penalty wide as Kildare prevailed despite Mikey Conway’s red card in the 51st minute. It was actually Conway’s first half goal that kept Kildare in the game at half-time.
After a stunning start for Offaly, which included a goal inside the third minute, Kildare managed to hold back a strong home tide to finish the first half level at 1-4 apiece. It was an action-packed 37 minutes of football and if the first quarter belonged to the home side, the visitors took over before the break. A penalty goal from Mikey Conway in the 29th minute got the Lilies back on track after a patchy opening in which they were out-muscled in midfield and out-foxed by Niall McNamee on too many occasions.
McNamee’s influence was there to be seen in the build-up to the very first score. Having looked out of space and ideas to the right on the goal near the endline, he managed to thread a pass through a needle for the in-rushing Brian Connor to collect. His quick hand-pass put the late-arriving Eoin Carroll one-on-one with Shane Connolly and Carroll duly dispatched the ball to the net.
A minute later McNamee converted a free for his first point and with his brother Alan dominating the skies in the middle, Offaly were firmly in control after the first 15 minutes. McNamee, Niall, pointed a second free and Offaly led 1-2 to 0-1.
A couple of frees from Seanie Johnston, who was a late addition to the starting 15 ahead of Rob Kelly, settled the Lilies but their attack was struggling to make headway against a mean and spirited Offaly defence. The long-ball approach towards Tomas O’Connor was proving ineffective as Shane Sullivan kept him on a tight rein while O’Connor found it hard to judge the flight of the ball.
Despite those problems, it was a long-ball to O’Connor which led to Kildare’s goal. Paudie O’Neill probed with a dropping ball right on the edge of the square and as O’Connor jumped, Offaly keeper Alan Mulhall was distracted and spilled possession behind him. Covering defender Paul McConway was there to pick up the pieces on the goal line but in his haste, he forgot to put this toe underneath and the referee signalled for a penalty.
From the spot Conway sent Mulhall the wrong way and had Kildare moving in the right direction at last thanks to his sweet strike into the bottom left corner. Seanie Johnston levelled the game for the first time three minutes later, with his first score from play, and while Anton Sullivan put Offaly back in front, the sides ended the half level when Eoghan O’Flaherty ventured forward from half-back to land the game’s best score from just inside the 45.
In all Kildare’s half-back line would contribute 1-3 even though the goalscorer was gone from the field with 20 minutes left. Mikey Conway had been struggling to find his rhythm all afternoon and the eight-minute spell which brought about his red card summed up his afternoon. His first yellow card in the 43rd minute came about when he had to cover in the full-back line and as Matthew Mitchell skipped inside him, the low-running corner-forward got caught by Conway’s arm. A straightforward foul was made to look worse than it was and Conway paid the price.
Eight minutes later a sloppy pass from Mick Foley left Conway chasing a 40-60 ball and when he made a rash dive for possession, he only succeeded in pole-axing Niall McNamee. A second yellow was inevitable and McNamee stuck the free in the 52nd minute to level the game at 1-7 apiece.
And yet Kildare didn’t wilt after that. Knowing they had to grind it out, they moved Brian Flanagan in front of the full-back line and powered forward from defence every chance they got. Two points in two minutes from Seanie Johnston put the Lilies back in front and the hard-working Emmet Bolton got forward to take an assist from the Cavan man to put Kildare 1-10 to 1-8 ahead with ten minutes left.
Bolton turned provider in the 66th minute, again pushing forward with purpose down the left wing where he eventually won a free. Johnston converted and now it was now 1-12 to 1-9. Offaly were finding it harder and harder to create opportunities but so long as you possess a player of Niall McNamee’s quality, you have a puncher’s chance.
With three minutes left he carved open the Kildare defence and the Offaly forwards pouring into the square eventually worked the ball to Paul McPadden, who was hauled down in the square. Naturally McNamee was entrusted with the penalty but there was something unnatural in the air as he failed to hit the target from 11 yards. He sent Shane Connolly the wrong way but his shot was also the wrong side of the left post.
And so an entertaining, if error-strewn and free-heavy (52 in total), contest ended with another Kildare victory, their fourth in succession. These are far from heady days though, even as they prepare to visit the Dubs in Parnell Park next Saturday.
KILDARE: Shane Connolly; Ollie Lyons, Michael Foley, Hugh McGrillen; Emmet Bolton 0-1, Mikey Conway 1-0 (pen), Eoghan O’Flaherty 0-2; Gary White, Padraig O’Neill 0-1; Brian Flanagan, Cathal McNally 0-1, Morgan O’Flaherty; Sean Johnston 0-7 (3fs), Tomás O’Connor, Daniel Flynn. Subs: Jonathan Byrne for McNally, 52; Robert Kelly for E O’Flaherty, 60; Paddy Brophy for O’Connor, 65; Ronan Sweeney for Bolton, 70.
OFFALY: Alan Mulhall; Sean Pender, Shane Sullivan, Paul McConway; David Hanlon, Brian Darby, Derek Kelly 0-1; Alan McNamee, Ross Brady 0-1f; Graham Guilfoyle, Brian Connor, Eoin Carroll 1-0; Matthew Mitchell, Niall McNamee 0-5 (4fs), Anton Sullivan 0-1. Subs: Peter Cunningham 0-1 for Mitchell, 40; Eoin Rigney for McConway, 42; Paul McPadden for 12, 64; Mark Young for A McNamee, 66.
REF: Joe Curley (Meath)