KILDARE captured their second Leinster junior football title in three years at Newbridge on Wednesday night (26 June).
The Lilies blitzed Longford in a storming second half display. A brilliant cameo from senior panellist Cathal McNally, who scored 1-1 in five minutes, propelled the home side in a free-scoring contest at St Conleth’s Park.
Kildare were in pole position once McNally netted their second goal in the 39th minute to give them a four-point lead and from there, they didn’t look back. Longford snaffled a third goal in the final minute but by then the game was up.
At half-time, the contest was delicately balanced thanks to a Paddy Dowd penalty for Longford. His goal from the spot brought the visitors right back into contention after Kildare had taken over in the second quarter. Having moved three clear by the 22nd minute, the home side had to settle for a one-point lead at the interval, 1-8 to 2-4.
Longford made the brighter start when corner-back Brendan Devine finished a sweeping move to the net after just six minutes.
On a glorious night for football, the game began at breakneck pace and the tempo rarely relented until the finish. The visitors looked lively up front as Mark Hughes and Paul McKeon hit the target from play but Kildare were threatening when they went forward as well. Midfielder Keith Cribbin provided two points from play to keep the Lilies in touch but it didn’t take long for them to draw level.
Darren Barker thought he’d scored a point from a 45 in the 14th minute but as it dropped from the sky, Cian Bolton soared into the square, where he fisted the ball to the net.
From the kickout, Hugh Mahon gathered possession and cut in from the left wing to point Kildare in front. While Longford equalised from a McKeon free four minutes later, the Lilies took charge with three points in as many minutes.
Two from Bolton, including a long-range free and a beauty from play, as well as a free from captain Seamus Hanafin pushed Kildare three clear after 22 minutes. All was working well at this stage for the home side, as their sweeper Colm Fagan was beginning to dictate things, but a brief lapse at the back allowed the visitors to draw level.
When a free from McKeon rebounded off the post, Paddy Dowd was quickest to react. While the decision to award him a penalty for what looked like an innocuous challenge by the Kildare defence was questionable, the Kildare defence should have been alert to the breaking ball.
From the penalty spot, Dowd coolly slotted the ball down the middle to draw the visitors level.
Kildare’s response was impressive. Bolton moved them back in front from a free and Mahon ensured they held their lead at the break when he matched a score from his opposite number, Daniel Mimnagh.
Longford began brightly again at the start of the second half. Points from Shane Doyle and sub Barry McKeon twice brought them level but Kildare were about to unleash their greatest weapon.
Introduced at half-time, senior panellist Cathal McNally made an immediate impact when he neatly finished to the net after a brilliant Kildare team move. McNally was the man in the right place as he kept his cool in front of goal to get past Longford keeper Paddy Collum and fire home from close range. Impressive full-forward Cian Bolton had again been to the fore in the build-up.
Two points from another senior sub, Jonathan Byrne, either side of McNally’s goal gave Kildare a comfortable five-point advantage at a vital stage. McNally and Graham Waters added further points as Kildare pushed for home and with ten minutes left, the Lilies had one hand on the trophy.
With a six-point cushion entering the final minute, Kildare could afford to concede a third goal although initially it looked like William Clynch had pulled off a fantastic save. Darragh Bennett arrived late in the square to get his hands on a high ball but Clynch kept the ball from hitting the net thanks to an out-stretched leg. After consulting with his umpires, referee Fergal Smyth decided that the ball had crossed the line.
Kildare finished in the style their performance deserved as Daniel Grehan converted a stylish point two minutes later to round off an impressive victory and book a place in the All-Ireland semi-finals.
KILDARE: William Clynch (Grange); James O’Connor (Johnstownbridge), William Burke (Two Mile House), Peter Warren (Maynooth); David Duke (Kilcock), Darren Barker (Kilcullen), Colin O’Shea (Milltown); Keith Cribbin 0-2 (Johnstownbridge), Shane Darcy (Two Mile House)l Hugh Mahon 0-2 (Athy), Seamus Hanafin 0-2fs (Ballyteague), Colm Fagan (Rathcoffey); Paddy Mahon 0-1 (Castledermot), Cian Bolton 1-3 (0-1f) (Eadestown), Eoin Powderly (Kilcock). Subs: Jonathan Byrne 0-2 (Allenwood) for Cribbin (inj) 18; Cathal McNally 1-1 (Johnstownbridge) for Powderly, HT; Graham Waters 0-1 (Raheens) for Duke, HT; Daniel Grehan 0-1 (Clogherinkoe) for Burke, 43; Tomas Jackman (Cappagh) for Bolton, 60.
LONGFORD: Paddy Collum; Ronan Keogh, Barry O’Farrell, Brendan Devine 1-0; Shane Powell, Darragh Bennett 1-0, Mark Duffy; Johnny Kane, Darren Gallagher; Daniel Mimnagh 0-1, Paul McKeon 0-2 (1f), Shane Doyle 0-1; Mark Hughes 0-2, Paddy Dowd 1-0 (pen), Marty Mulvey. Subs: Ger Denigan for kane, 24; Barry McKeon for Mulvey, HT; Kevin Burke for Powell, 40; Jamesie Martin for McKeon, 50; Darren Farrelly for Hughes, 60.
REF: Fergal Smyth (Offaly)