Kildare 1-12 Longford 0-12
A Sean Hurley-inspired Kildare won their first Leinster U21 title in five years as they held on in O’Moore Park last night.
They mightn’t have scored for the final 23 minutes of the game but they thoroughly deserved the victory after putting together an eight-point lead after the break.
Longford forwards Mark Hughes and Robbie Smyth were thorns in the Lilywhites’ side but the sum of their efforts wasn’t enough to really trouble the opposition.
Kildare controlled the affair for most of the 60 minutes.
Although more than their share of frees went against them, Kildare kept their composure to see off Longford having led by four at the interval.
Kildare were then awarded a penalty within the first 25 seconds of the new half when Hurley was brought down by Darren Gallagher.
Paddy Brophy’s kick found the net and when Padráig Fogarty sent over his second point of the game in the 33rd minute the title looked to be Kildare’s.
They kept plenty of space between themselves and Longford right up until the 51st minute when Eoin McCormack’s side reeled off three points to cut the margin to four.
An Andrew Dalton point narrowed Longford’s deficit to a goal in injury-time but that was as close as they got.
Although Mark Donnellan had to be at his best to deny Hughes a goal with less than 10 minutes of normal time left, it would have been a robbery given how commanding Kildare were throughout.
Kildare’s dominance in the middle of the field was key to their first-half advantage, 0-9 to 0-5, having played against the wind for much of the half before it changed to a cross-wind.
Hurley and Thomas Moolick were excellent from the restarts and were swallowing up kick-outs from both ends until Longford goalkeeper Paddy Collum changed his kicking strategy.
It was Hurley who opened the scoring in the second minute with a mighty 45 punt.
Hughes, who gave something of a virtuoso performance in the first half, hit back with a free three minutes later at the other end.
However, it was another 10 minutes before Longford, via another Hughes’ free, scored again. In that time, half the Kildare attack got their names on the scoreboard and Hurley added one from play.
Fogarty was among them and could have signalled lights out for Longford when he was on the receiving end of a long diagonal ball in from Hurley.
Collum, though, made a fine save and from the same passage of play Longford midfielder Paddy Thompson saw his goal chance denied by the woodwork.
Hughes and then Smyth fired over frees to narrow the deficit to two but Kildare responded well with Brophy and Fionn Dowling points, the latter a gem from an acute angle.
As the strong Kildare following in Portlaoise grew frustrated with Brian O’Shea’s officiating, Hughes was causing devilment in the Kildare full-back line and slotted over two from play either side of Brophy’s second point.
Niall Kelly notched his second of the game in the 26th minute, which turned out to be the last score of the half, when the ball found its way back to him after he had initially kicked short.
At that stage, Kildare had five players who had registered scores from play compared to Hughes on his lonesome for Longford.
The writing was on the wall and in the opening exchanges of the second half Kildare underlined it.
Scorers for Kildare: P Brophy 1-2; N Kelly 0-3; S Hurley (0-1 45), F Dowling, P Fogarty 0-2 each; T Moolick 0-1.
Scorers for Longford: M Hughes 0-5 (3f); R Smyth (0-1f), D Gallagher 0-2 each; B McKeon (f), D Minagh, A Dalton 0-1 each.
KILDARE: M Donnellan; S Higgins, D Hyland, M Konstantin; P Cribbin, F Conway, J Byrne; T Moolick, S Hurley; D Flynn, L McGovern, P Fogarty; P Brophy, F Dowling, N Kelly.
Subs for Kildare: H Mahon for Dowling (48); C Murphy for McGovern (63).
LONGFORD: P Collum; R Keogh, B O’Farrell, D Bennett; D Farrelly, P McCormack, D Cooney; P Thompson, D Gallagher; D Mimnagh, B McKeon, R Connor; R Smyth, M Hughes, J McGivney.
Subs for Longford: A Dalton for Thompson, C Farrelly for Connor (both 40); C Lynn for Smyth (inj, 57); S Clarke for Gallagher (59).
Referee: B O’Shea (Dublin).
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