Kildare hurlers finished off a great year for them by capturing the Christy Ring Cup for a third time following a three points victory over Down at Croke Park. It was a hard fought but well-earned victory for the Lilywhites who suffered a blow when regular Goalkeeper, Paddy McKenna, had to cry off through illness.
His understudy, Mark Doyle, was an able replacement putting in a strong performance as well as keeping a clean sheet.
Kildare got the goals at crucial times in the game. The first after five minutes through Tadgh Forde and the other two just before and just after half time through Paul Divilly and Jack Sheridan respectively.
Kildare were never headed in the game. After racing into a 1-3 to 0-1 lead inside the first six minutes, Kildare suddenly went quiet until the Water Break allowing Down come back into the game with five unanswered points.
David Slattery had opened Kildare’s account after just 14 seconds and his point was followed by a Brian Byrne free and a long-range effort from Paul Divilly. Kildare opened the Down defence on the fifth minute and when Jack Sheridan’s initial shot was blocked by Down goalkeeper and captain, Stephen Keith, Tadhg Forde was on hand to finish to the net.
Inexplicably Kildare were not to score for a further 12 minutes as Oisin Mac Manus punished indiscretions adding two more frees to his 2nd minute opener and he was aided and abetted by Pearse Og McCrickard with a point from play and a sideline cut plus one from Tim Prenter.
The Water Break gave Kildare a bit of respite and immediately afterwards Brian Byrne added two frees and James Burke added a point from play as David Slattery was giving corner back Michael Hughes a torrid time and eventually the Mourne man was booked.
Further Down points from Prenter, McCrickard and Mac Manus saw the sides level for the fourth time just before half time when Paul Divilly struck for Kildare’s second goal to send David Herity’s men in 2-7 to 0-10 up at the break.
Down reduced the deficit with points from Donal Hughes and MacManus immediately upon the resumption but Jack Sheridan, who had a quiet first half by his standards, got goal number three cutting in along the endline to fire low past Keith in the Down goals.
This gave Kildare a 3-9 to 0-12 lead but if they thought the game was done and dusted, they were very wrong. MacManus pointed three frees in a row to bring it back to three. Brian Byrne pointed a crucial free on 51 minutes to keep daylight between the sides before another three in a row saw Down bring it back to a point by the 55th minute.
Kildare rallied again thanks to Byrne, Sheridan, James Burke and a super strike from substitute, Shane Ryan and with three minutes left on the clock Kildare led 3-14 to 0-18.
It was Down’s turn to rally now as Kildare retreated somewhat and they brought it back to one deep in injury time with points from Conor Woods, Prenter and substitute, Paul Sheehan.
Two late Jack Sheridan points, one from a free and one from a 65 ensured that Kildare would lift the Cup as Down finished the game with fourteen men when Woods got a straight red for an off the ball incident.
KILDARE: Mark Doyle; Simon Leacy, John Doran, Cian Shanahan; Niall O Muineachain, Rian Boran, Kevin Whelan; Cathal Dowling, Paul Divilly 1-1; James Burke 0-2, Jack Sheridan 1-4 (3f 1x 65) Conor Dowling; Tadhg Forde 1-0, Brian Byrne (Capt 0-7 (6f) David Slattery 0-1.
Subs: Sean Christanseen for Shanahan 43, Shane Ryan 0-1 for Conor Dowling 51, Kevin Aherne for Forde 54, Cathal McCabe for Slattery 69.
DOWN: Stephen Keith (Capt); Michael Hughes, Caolan Taggart, Tom Murray; Barry Traynor, Conor Woods 0-1, Liam Savage; Matt Conlon, John McManus; Donal Hughes 0-1, Pearse Og McCrickard 0- 4, Tim Prenter 0-3; Oisin MacManus 0 9 (9f), Eoghan Sands, Daithi Sands 0-1.
Subs: Gerard Hughes for Trainor 27, Phelim Savage for Michael Hughes H/T, Chris Egan for Donal Hughes 40, Paul Sheehan 0-2 (1f) for MacManus 53 Ryan McCusker for McCrickard 66,
REFEREE: Chris Mooney (Dublin)