Kildare 1-12 -
With utter joy and sheer relief, Kildare collected their 10th Leinster under-21 football title on Wednesday (3 April) night in Portlaoise.
When Paddy Brophy netted a penalty one minute after half-time, Kildare held a seven-point lead and, it seemed, the trophy in one hand. Their lead was still seven when captain Tommy Moolick split the uprights with an inspired score from 45 metres in the 42nd minute but it was to be the final such act by a man in white on the night.
For the remainder of the game plus the five agonising minutes of injury-time that followed, Kildare desperately hung on to their diminishing lead as Longford inched their way back into contention.
Were it nor an incredible block by Paul Cribbin in the 52nd minute, the outcome might well have been different. At that stage, Longford were gathering momentum and Kildare were engulfed by the blue tide coming at them. Even though there was six points between them, Longford were fearless and poured forward as if victory was just a score away.
Had Mark Hughes not been denied by Cribbin’s heroic act, Longford would have been within three. God knows how much a goal would have lifted them for they were attacking Kildare’s resolve with every foray into their 45.
Eight times they probed Kildare’s defence in the final quarter as the Lilies paid the price for some reckless play up front where they coughed up the ball too cheaply. The fact that Kildare didn’t score in the final 23 minutes only told half the story because too often they failed to engineer a shooting chance as they got caught in possession or gave the ball away.
Longford’s hard-working half-back line spearheaded their revival and their efforts were rewarded by a rich spell up front from the 51st to the 54th minute when the attack reeled off three points on the trot. Barry McKeon landed a free before Mark Hughes came within a whisker of a goal only for Cribbin to get back and make a block after the Longford full-forward had rounded Kildare ‘keeper Mark Donnellan.
Longford still managed a score from the resulting 45 when Darren Gallagher got his fist to Paddy Collum’s dropping delivery. A minute later Daniel Mimnagh scored from play and there was all to play for with six minutes left.
An injury to livewire corner-forward Robbie Smyth curtailed Longford’s momentum and the prolonged stoppage that resulted gave Kildare time to draw breath. The final quarter had left them gasping but as injury-time approached they regained their composure and held onto the ball.
Niall Kelly could have wrapped things up but fired wide from a good position leaving Longford within striking distance when James McGivney scored another point in the 63rd minute. Although there was time for them to equalise, the chance never materialised. Kildare won the next kickout and calmly held the ball on the right wing, passing and moving like there was little riding on the result of the next play. It was the kind of cool edge they hadn’t shown for most of the second half but when the final whistle sounded, the emotional dam burst.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever won anything with Kildare and I can’t believe it. Words can’t describe how happy I am,” said midfielder and man-of-the-match, Sean Hurley. In the final ten minutes the Johnstownbridge man went down with cramp as the effects of a stomach bug during the previous 48 hours began to take their toll but by then Hurley had more than played his part.
His grip on midfield in the first half was vice-like as he won ball after ball including six kickouts with an exhibition of high-fielding. He opened the scoring from a 45 after two minutes and he kicked a second point from play after eight minutes to give Kildare a 3-1 lead.
The Lilies’ high-tempo attack yielded five points in the first nine minutes as their long-ball approach to the full-forward line caused Longford all sorts of problems. Paddy Brophy almost got in for a goal in the first minute while Padraig Fogarty should have found the net in the 12th when he dallied in front of a half-open goal and gave Longford ‘keeper Paddy Collum just enough time to recover.
From that save, Longford seemed to grow in belief and they scored on their very next attack courtesy of a Mark Hughes free. Another free from Robbie Smyth brought them back within two.
Kildare stumbled when they elected to run with the ball from midfield and their turnover count reached double figures as Longford spoiled a lot of the clean possession Kildare were winning on their own kickouts. Points from Brophy and Fionn Dowling gave Kildare a 7-3 lead after 21 minutes but they have wasted four attacks in the time since Fogarty’s goal by giving the ball away inside the Longford 45.
The next two Longford scores resulted from Kildare turnovers. Dangerman Mark Hughes pointed from play and then curled over the simplest of frees when Paul Cribbin compounded a defensive turnover by fouling in front of the posts. In fairness to Cribbin he seemed to do everything right in his attempts to tackle but not for the first time in the first half, referee Brian O’Shea ruled against Kildare – the free count was 9-3 against the Lilies at one point.
After a shaky spell, Kildare finished strongly before the interval and points from Niall Kelly, following great work by Padraig Fogarty, and Brophy gave them a healthy 9-5 advantage.
Having come close to a goal at the outset, Kildare scored one quickly after the restart. Kelly supplied Sean Hurley as he galloped in from the right and as bore down on goal, he was hauled down in the square. Brophy stood confidently over the spot kick – memories of his dramatic equalising penalty for Celbridge in the Kildare minor final last year came flooding back – and sent Paddy Collum the wrong way as he struck a powerful shot into the left corner.
Further points from Kelly and Fogarty had the Lilies ahead by 1-11 to 0-6 but Longford were starting to turn the screw at midfield as Hurley’s influence waned. Collum worked the ball short as often as possible but when he went long down the middle, his outfield players were like flies around the breaking ball. Darren Gallagher and Robbie Smyth scored one each within three minutes to reduce the deficit to six and with each score, the side were growing in stature.
Kildare’s final score came from the captain Tommy Moolick in the 42nd minute which left them under savage pressure coming down the stretch. Longford gave it everything they had and scored the last four points of the game to leave a goal between the sides but their comeback ran out of time as a relieved Kildare left Portlaoise as Leinster champions.
KILDARE: Mark Donnellan; Michael Konstantin, David Hyland, Sean Higgins; Paul Cribbin, Fergal Conway, Jonathan Byrne; Tommy Moolick 0-1, Sean Hurley 0-2 (1 45); Liam McGovern, Niall Kelly 0-3, Daniel Flynn; Paddy Brophy 1-2 (1-0pen), Fionn Dowling 0-2, Padraig Fogarty 0-2. Subs: Hugh Mahon for Dowling, 48; Tony Gibbons for McGovern, 60.
LONGFORD: Paddy Collum; Ronan Keogh, Barry O’Farrell, Darragh Bennett; Diarmuid Cooney, Padraig McCormack, Darren Farrelly; Paddy Thompson, Darren Gallagher 0-2; Daniel Mimnagh 0-1, Barry McKeon 0-1, Rory Connor; Robbie Smyth 0-2 (1f), Mark Hughes 0-5 (3fs), James McGivney 0-1. Subs: Cian Farrelly for Thompson, 40; Andrew Dalton for Connor, 40; Cillian Lynn for Smyth (inj), 57; Shane Clarke for Gallagher, 59.
REF: Brian O’Shea (Dublin)