Kelly pulls second half strings
NOT only was it his first appear-ance in Croke Park, it was his debut in the National League – hell, he hasn’t even played a senior league game with his club yet.
At 19 years of age, Athy’s Niall Kelly bestrode a famous stage like he had just togged out for a training session in Geraldine Park even though it was only his second
time to wear a senior county jersey. No wonder he played with abandon and eventually scooped the man-of-the-match award – he played as if he had been born to be here.
After a slightly shaky start that included a wide from a shot that he snatched at, Kelly really settled into the game before half-time, setting up Brian Flanagan for a point before converting his own score and then winning a free that John Doyle pointed. It was merely a taste of what was to come. In the second half, Croke Park became
He scored a point with his first touch in the 38th minute and it set the tone for a flawless second half display. Kelly hardly put a foot wrong. He was on the ball 18 times during the second 35 minutes and only once did he cough up possession – even then it was an audacious shot that just clipped the cross bar. His confidence was reflected in his use of the ball – he kicked the ball nearly three times as much as he hand-passed it (13 v 5). Who would have thought the inter-county game could facilitate such a player with its emphasis on short-passing and ball-retention?
Kelly has obviously been given licence from his manager to conduct the Kildare attack anyway he chooses and of the nine different foot-passes that he executed, there were hardly two that were alike. He popped balls out to the wing and over the top, he spun passes with the outside of the boot and he drilled a beautiful ball to Paddy Brophy in the left corner at one stage. If his accuracy wasn’t enough to trouble Donegal, he had no qualms about carrying the ball, opting to solo-forward eight times in the second half and not once getting caught in possession or turned over in the tackle.
“The last 15, 20 minutes were hard going,” Kelly said after the game, yet he made it look easy. In the final ten minutes he made seven plays which included a point for himself, an assist for another for Eoghan O’Flaherty as well as winning a vital free that Mikey Conway converted to give Kildare a two-point cushion in the 63rd minute. That Conway free broke a run of six straight points for Donegal, which had taken them within one of Kildare.
“We let them back into it and we shouldn’t have,” said Kelly and his third point in the 67th minute and assist for O’Flaherty in the 68th did much to ensure Donegal didn’t
get back into it even after netting a goal with four minutes left.
“Go as hard as you can for as long as you can, that’s all you can do really,” he said.
“Roll on next Saturday evening (in Cork).”
Conway in command
LIFE on the ball is a pleasure pur-suit for Mikey Conway. It is a joy for those watching to see the Nur-ney man pick passes for fun.
Against Donegal Conway’s play-making role in front of the full-back line was readily exploited by his teammates in the big spaces of Croke Park. Conway was only
too happy to oblige as he stitched together the play with his pinpoint accuracy. In the first half he was on the ball 11 times in open play while converting one of his two frees and
inadvertently providing the assist for Tomas O’Connor’s goal with the second. At the back he demanded the ball and brought Kildare forward with purpose every time –
losing the ball just once in the first half from an errant foot-pass.
In the second half Conway was even more influential with 18 plays and a 100 per cent success rate with his six foot-passes. His only real error was a sloppy hand-pass
in the 51st minute which gifted Donegal possession inside the Kildare 45 and eventually led to a point from a free that the defence was forced to concede.
It remains to be seen how Conway will cope against a more powerful attack but he was as worthy a man-of-the-match contender here as Kelly and fittingly enough he
finished the game with the ball in his hands when the final whistle sounds.
Subdued Doyle still delivers
YOU get the impression that for every yard that the average player covers, John Doyle does ten. The flip-side is that when Doyle isn’t doing as much as we’re used
to it feels like he’s not doing much at all.
At last Kildare seem to have sufficient resources to leave Doyle operate close to goal and there were rich dividends as he scored 1-2 from play in addition to three frees. Doyle’s first point was a gem – taking a pass from Tomas O’Connor he turned on the spot and had the shot gone in an instant. He had to move that quick because that’s all the time Donegal would allow him but it also showed the skill of the man to be able convert in such close quarters.
He added two frees as well as kicking a wide before the break but he almost got in for a goal 12 minutes after half-time – a good save from Paul Durkan denying him. Doyle’s biggest disappointment will have been the free he kicked wide in the 45th minute. It was in a good position for a right-footed kicker, just left of the posts and well within range but Doyle seemed distracted by the two Donegal men who were standing right in front of him. There was actually a delay before the kick was taken as the referee signalled for the Donegal players to retreat but if anything that seemed
to unsettle Doyle and a wide on the near side suggested he connected poorly with the ball – perhaps having been distracted from the task at hand.
You can be sure it’s the one thing he’ll be practicing this week given his level of dedication.