Eirgrid Leinster U20 Football Championship – Group 3 – Round 1
By Richard Commins
Electricity finally arrived in the press area in Hawkfield on Tuesday night but unfortunately the Kildare Under 20 footballers failed to spark in miserable wind and rain, going under to Westmeath at home for the second time in three years.
Fortunately for Brian Flanagan and his panel, the Eirgrid Leinster Championship has changed to a round-robin format from knockout giving them an opportunity to recover this time. They are in a three-team group with two qualifiers and now must overcome Wexford next Tuesday night to have a chance of progressing to the quarter-finals.
Kildare were lethargic and unimaginative, deploying a slow, predictable style of play similar to the senior side’s recent performances. It was light years away from the sparkling performances which saw last year’s team, seven of whom started again tonight, reach the All-Ireland final.
The strength of the team on paper together with a good pre-season campaign that saw them unbeaten against Kerry and Dublin, made the display all the more perplexing.
A failure to take advantage of two Westmeath black cards in the first half was symptomatic of Kildare’s performance, and when the Lake County were back to full compliment they took control, breaching the home defence for two crucial second-half goals.
Kildare had looked comfortable early on and got points on the board from a Shane Farrell free and an Adam Fanning mark within five minutes.
But when Westmeath were numerically disadvantaged by the sinbinning of Dylan Murtagh after eight minutes and midfield partner Ben Killian eight minutes later, the home side only managed to add points from Callum Bolton and Farrell (free) to one in return from Matthew Whittaker, Westmeath’s first score coming after 25 minutes and with only their second shot at the Milltown end posts.
Farrell’s third free made it 0-5 to 0-1 but Westmeath were putting their early tentativeness to one side, perhaps realising that Kildare were nothing to write home about, at least on this occasion.
After another fine score from the impressive wing-forward Whittaker, Senan Baker, son of former Clare hurling great Ollie, brought the gap down to two by half-time, squeezing a free just inside the left-hand upright. Half time: Kildare 0-5 Westmeath 0-3.
Westmeath continued in the ascendancy and points from Brian Cooney, a son of former senior manager Jack, and centre-back Tom Kelleher saw them level within six minutes of the restart.
Kildare introduced schoolboy Ryan Sinkey and he quickly put them back in front with a glorious score but in the 42nd minute Cooney grabbed the important first goal when he got a fist to Baker’s free with Cormac Barker having advanced off his line.
The side in maroon grew in confidence and a Baker free and another score from play from Shane Hanley made it 1-7 to 0-6.
Kildare struggled to gain any momentum, though to be fair Westmeath defended superbly. Two points in a minute from a Kevin Cummins free and Fanning from play brought them to within two points by the 47th minute but there was to be no late surge.
Whitaker and Farrell (from a free) swapped scores before substitute Shane Corcoran pointed for the visitors and when the restart from Barker went awry Whitaker buried the second goal past him to secure the win with a minute of normal time remaining.
Farrell took a consolation point before another Baker free confirmed a deserved six-point win for the Lake men who outscored the home team by 2-7 to 0-3 from play.
KILDARE: Cormac Barker; Harry O’Neill, Ryan Burke, Jack McKevitt; James Harris, James McGrath, Fionn Ó Giolláin; Luke Killian, Seán Hanafin; Callum Bolton 0-1, Colm Dalton, Shane Farrell 0-5 (5fs); Kevin Cummins 0-1 (f), Niall Dolan, Adam Fanning 0-2 (1m). Subs: Ryan Sinkey 0-1 for Hanafin 36, Oisín O’Sullivan for Dolan 43, Tomas von Engelbrechten for Ó Giolláin 51, Eoin Cully for Cummins 56.
WESTMEATH: Mikey Lynam; Liam Daly, Sam Smith, Daragh Lowry; Daniel Scahill, Tom Kelleher 0-1, Jack Geoghegan; Dylan Murtagh, Ben Killian; Podge Quinn, Danny McCartan, Matthew Whittaker 1-3; Brian Cooney 1-1, Senan Baker 0-3 (3fs), Shane Hanley 0-1. Subs: Shane Corcoran 0-1 for Quinn 51, Peter Pierson for Hanley 59, Tadhg Baker for Whittaker 62.
REFEREE: Andrew Smith (Meath)