FOR a team that held such a commanding lead, they looked surprisingly nervous. Midway through the second half Kildare were leading by seven points yet if you didn’t know the score, you’d think Longford were in front.
Although Kildare started brightly and had a 5-1 lead after just nine minutes they were vulnerable when Longford came at them on the counter-attack. They were lucky not to concede a goal in the first quarter when Longford midfielder Paddy Thompson cracked a thundering shot off the post. Moments earlier Padraig Fogarty failed to convert a glorious goal chance when Longford ‘keeper Paddy Collum scrambled across his line.
Fogarty’s chance came at the end of a blistering start for Kildare. They had nine attacks in the first 10 minutes compared to Longford’s four while the Lilies only missed one out of six shots taken in that spell. A fast start was something that they had targeted too.
“A good start was part of our game plan,” said captain Tommy Moolick. “We saw Longford against Dublin, they broke them down near the end so we needed a good start to make sure we got a bit of a lead ahead. We worked on it through training.”
It was easily Kildare’s best attacking spell in the game and mirrored their best passages against Laois in the semi-final. Against much better opposition, it was unlikely that Kildare would maintain that dominance but they struggled midway through the first half because of self-inflicted problems. The first three Longford points all came from frees and two of those chances resulted from Kildare turnovers in attack.
Early on the ball had been arriving quick and early into the full-forward line and when Kildare resumed that style they got back on the scoreboard through Paddy Brophy and Fionn Dowling. Those points from Brophy and Dowling gave Kildare a 7-3 lead after 21 minutes but they had wasted four attacks in the time since Fogarty’s goal chance by giving the ball away inside the Longford 45.
By the end of the half Kildare had a four-point lead off the back of their lowest shooting return of the campaign so far – just 50 per cent (9 points from 18 shots) whereas they had a 56 per cent return against Meath and 64 against Laois.
In the second half, despite another fast start, Kildare’s shooting return diminished as they converted four of nine shots which meant Paddy Brophy’s penalty goal was crucial. Ultimately that score decided the outcome.
Kildare scored 1-2 from their three attacks in the first five minutes of the second half but as much as Longford fought back, Kildare’s attack crumbled. They scored just once again before the finish as they clocked up four wides and twice as many turnovers as their opponents (12-6). It was those turnovers that really changed the game in the final quarter when Kildare lost possession 10 times. It was hardly surprising then that those errors coincided with Longford’s best spell of the game.
“Longford had a different kind of game-plan to most teams that we played so far. They had a more defensive game-plan and came on the counter-attack,” said Moolick.
It was from Kildare’s turnovers that Longford were able to launch so many of those counter attacks. They scored four points in 13 minutes and would have had a goal were it not for the intervention of Paul Cribbin in the 52nd minute. Given that Kildare were crumbling at that point, Longford might well have gone on to win in normal time if they netted that goal.
Instead they were still chasing a four-point deficit when corner-forward Robbie Smyth went off injured in the 57th minute – a prolonged stoppage resulting in five minutes of injury time but more importantly, it halted Longford’s momentum. You could see the benefit to Kildare when play resumed as they held their composure and worked the ball back and forth, holding possession long enough to hear the final whistle.
It was a case of just getting across the winning line for the Lilies in the end. They endured their worst period of play in the whole tournament during that final quarter and were lucky Longford weren’t closer to them on the scoreboard. Undoubtedly Kildare were the better side when they played their best football but they won this final playing below their best for most of the second half.
Nerves probably played their part but with so much room to improve after winning a Leinster title, this side have the best of both worlds.