Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Niall Kelly tableKelly 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

Kelly’s playground.

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.

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