Kildare produced a stunning second-half display to dethrone Leinster Champions Meath, who finished with 14 men, by 0-16 to 0-10 at Croke Park.
The Lilywhites were so dominant that they could afford eighteen wides. They ‘won’ the second half by 0-11 to 0-3, restricting their opponents to just one point from play after the restart.
But Meath will rue a poor decision that ruled out a late goal by substitute Graham Geraghty with the match in the balance and also had another substitute Brian Farrell sent off for a harmless incident.
The Royal County led by 0-7 to 0-5 at the break, with cousins Shane and Paddy O’Rourke giving the Kildare defence the run-around, while the Meath rear-guard appeared to have the measure of an impotent Lilywhite attack, which was guilty of ten first-half wides.
Meath made a late change to their starting XV with Paddy O’Rourke in for Cian Ward. Kildare started as selected. The Lilywhites went straight into attack and Alan Smith collected an astute pass from Hugh Lynch to open the scoring after just 22 seconds.
Kildare also kicked a couple of wides in the first two minutes and Tomas O’Connor – who started at full forward, with ageless All Star Johnny Doyle playing at centre field – fisted an effort against an upright. Joe Sheridan scuffed a goal chance to the left and wide but made immediate amends by thumping over the equalising point from 50 metres in the fifth minute.
A minute later, Paddy O’Rourke – wearing No.26 – justified his selection with a fine point to edge the Royals ahead. Doyle showed great energy and accuracy to level a minute later. Kildare were shooting into the Hill 16 end and O’Connor supplied their third wide in the seventh minute.
In the eighth minute, Shane O’Rourke put the Royals back in front after the Kildare defence was outmuscled. At the other end, Gary White had spurned a decent shooting opportunity, allowing debutant Bryan Menton to get back and intercept. Centre forward Shane O’Rourke curled over his second point in as many minutes as Meath’s height in the forward’s wreaked havoc. Doyle followed up with a wide when he shot while off-balance.
Centre back Brian Flanagan was the next man to drill a shot badly wide under pressure from the Meath defence. At this stage, Kildare looked capable of kicking themselves out of this game.
As the forwards floundered, it was left to wing back Emmet Bolton to get on the end of a move involving Doyle and Smith to halve the deficit: 0-3 to 0-4 after 14. Graham Reilly was narrowly wide with his shot after piercing the Kildare defence with a purposeful run.
On 16 minutes, James Kavanagh levelled the tie with a delightful point under pressure from two Meath defenders. All eight scores so far had come from open play. That changed when Paddy O’Rourke effortlessly stroked a 45 between the posts after Connolly had kept a flicked ball out of his net with a near-post save.
Kildare’s response was a poor wide from Eoghan O’Flaherty, which was followed by a Reilly wide for Meath and another wide from Shane O’Rourke. Eoghan O’Flaherty had time to rearrange his feet and clip over the levelling point in the 22nd minute: 0-5 each.
Paddy O’Rourke picked up a very harsh yellow card and Banty made a change as early as the 24th minute, with Mark O’Sullivan brought in at left half back in place of Ciaran Lenehan. Ronan Sweeney was in for Brian Flanagan within minutes.
In between, O’Flaherty missed a simple free for Kildare. At the other end, Stephen Bray knocked over a lovely point and O’Rourke was unlucky when his shot rebounded off an upright. Bolton’s silly foul on Reilly presented Meath with a free close to goal and Shane O’Rourke demonstrated his two-footedness by dropping a nice shot over the bar: 0-7 to 0-5 after 32 minutes.
Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney must have been kicking himself as his team had hit nine wides already. Bray speared a wayward shot off target with his left boot and Sweeney added Kildare’s tenth wide in the last minute of the first half. O’Sullivan brought Meath’s wides tally to six just before the short whistle.
Doyle ran straight at the heart of the Meath defence and struck over an inspirational Kildare point within seconds of the restart, but Meath keeper Brendan Murphy dealt capably with the next ball that came near him. Murphy blotted his copybook when he dropped the ball out the field and Smith tried to pounce, but Meath got away with it.
It was all Kildare at the start of the second half but they found Murphy to be an immovable object. However, the Meath No.1 touched the ball on the deck and Doyle stroked over the 13-metre free to level the scores for the fifth time – his third point. 0-7 apiece after 41 minutes.
Eamonn Callaghan became the fifth Kildare forward to score, after being set up by the tireless Gary White. Smith followed up with a disappointing wide for the dominant Short Grass County. Callaghan knocked over his second point after an error from Murphy and Kildare led by two for the first time. They had bossed the first ten minutes of the second half, stroking over four points to no reply.
The umpires denied Meath a clear 45 after the ball went behind off a Kildare back and Paddy O’Rourke was wide before O’Callaghan notched his third consecutive score for the super-fit Lilywhites. Sweeney registered their 14th wide.
Doyle got on the end of a flowing Kildare move to make it 0-11 to 0-7 after 50 minutes and the Meath backroom made a fourth switch in an attempt to get back into the game. Substitute Brian Farrell ended Kildare’s scoring sequence with a routine free on 52 minutes, Meath’s first score of the second half coming from a very soft free awarded against Mick Foley.
When Sheridan dropped over his second point in the 55th minute, Meath were back within two.
A huge roar then went up, when Banty went to introduce Graham Geraghty but the celebrations were tempered by the dubious dismissal at the same moment of Farrell with a straight red card. The substitution was postponed and Meath were now in huge trouble.
Callaghan took his fourth point – an absolute beauty from the right wing – and Murphy made a fantastic save to deny Kavanagh what looked like a definite Kildare goal after the No.15 found himself in a one-on-one with the veteran custodian. Eoghan O’Flaherty dropped over the resultant 45.
Geraghty belatedly came in eleven minutes from time but Meath were by now trailing by four points and down to 14 men against one of the fittest teams in Ireland. In the 63rd minute, Meath’s 1999 All-Ireland winning captain announced his arrival when he palmed a high delivery to the back of the net, seemingly closing the gap to just a point but the match officials eventually decided to disallow the score for the most marginal square-ball decision.
This was a huge call in the context of the match and Meath were entitled to feel very hard done by. The umpires had given the goal but the referee decided to over-rule them. Replays showed that it was in fact a perfectly-good goal.
Paddy O’Rourke (free) and Kavanagh (via a post off his left boot from a tight angle) traded scores and over-elaboration cost the leaders a goal chance. There were still four points between them with four minutes of normal time left.
Eoghan O’Flaherty floated over his third point from a free after a crude foul on Doyle and substitute Robert Kelly boomed over the final score in the second added minute.
Kildare: Shane Connolly; Andrew MacLochlainn, Mick Foley, Hugh McGrillen; Gary White, Brian Flanagan, Emmet Bolton (0-1); Tomas O’Connor, Hugh Lynch; Morgan O’Flaherty, Eoghan O’Flaherty (0-3), Eamonn Callaghan (0-4); Alan Smith (0-1), John Doyle (0-4), James Kavanagh (0-2). Subs: Ronan Sweeney, Robert Kelly (0-1), Padraig O’Neill, Mark Scanlon, Tommy O’Neill.
Meath: Brendan Murphy, Gary O’Brien, Kevin Reilly, Shane McAnarney, Seamus Kenny, Bryan Menton, Ciaran Lenehan, Nigel Crawford, Brian Meade, Jamie Queeney, Shane O’Rourke (0-3), Graham Reilly, Stephen Bray (0-1), Joe Sheridan (0-2), Paddy O’Rourke (0-3). Subs: Mark O’Sullivan, Mark Ward, Brian Farrell (0-1), Paddy Gilsenan.
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