A BRILLIANT second-half display from Kildare paved the way for an impressive and well-deserved victory over Meath yesterday.
The winners scored 12 second-half points in comparison to just three from the Leinster champions and their total of 2-17 equalled their season’s best which came against Derry in Round 3 of the qualifiers.
Again, just like the Derry and Monaghan games Kieran McGeeney’s side got off to a slow start and lost influential midfielder Dermot Earley to a knee injury after just three minutes – an injury that looks like it could end his participation for the season. Meath, showing no hangover from the controversial Leinster final win, had 1-3 on the board after 13 minutes with Joe Sheridan looking very dangerous in the full-forward line.
And despite losing the kick outs by 15/10, Meath looked the better team in a first half that was notable for the quality of point-taking by both sides despite the wet conditions.
The crucial scores however were the two Kildare goals. Having sensed some unease early on in the Meath full-back line, Kildare played direct and were rewarded for the policy. Both goals were brilliantly executed with James Kavanagh showing great composure to dummy Brendan Murphy for his and Padraig O’Neill drawing the keeper to leave Alan Smith with a simple finish. I felt it was a big call from Marty Duffy in awarding a free against Joe Sheridan.
Kildare have scored eight goals in seven championship matches. Only Meath (12) have bettered them.
Smith’s goal was the important score in that Kildare went in at half-time a point down and their scoring burst in the second half quickly put them ahead. In the first 10 minutes of the second half they out-scored Meath by four points to one, with Emmet Bolton coming up from defence and a free from 45 metres off the ground by Eoghan O’Flaherty really uplifting scores. Meath staged a mini-revival with two quick scores to leave just two points between the sides with 10 minutes remaining. The comeback was quelled when Kevin Reilly was adjudged to have fouled Ronan Sweeney and Kildare went on to score five further brilliant points to run out deserving winners.
Based on this display Kildare have as good a chance as any of the remaining teams of winning the All-Ireland.
They coped with the loss of Dermot Earley and showed no panic after another slow start. They showed no sign of fatigue playing for their sixth week in a row. They are as conditioned as Cork, Dublin or Down and they will win enough ball to win any match. Also, unlike their great team of the late 90s which came so close to winning an All-Ireland, they have the scoring power to win the biggest games.
And they have the hunger and having lost their previous two quarter-finals they showed great will to win in that second-half and really turned the screw on Meath once they got three points clear with ten minutes to go.
Their defence had a torrid time in their opening game versus Louth but since then Kieran McGeeney has re-jigged the backline with Peter Kelly and Andrew McLoughlin coming in as corner backs; Hugh McGrillen going to the edge of the square and Emmet Bolton to centre-back. They have only conceded 1-9, 1-11 and 1-12 in their last three games.
Kieran McGeeney will be very pleased with the movement, ball-winning ability and accuracy of leading championship scorer John Doyle, James Kavanagh and Padraig O’Neill but also got a great return of five points from Eoghan O’Flaherty including two important long range frees from distance. The only previous start he had made this campaign was in the Leitrim match. McGeeney also made a good move to bring in sub Michael Foley to negate the threat of Joe Sheridan.
Sheridan and Graham Reilly got some great scores and Brian Meade and Seamus Kenny did some great work but Meath will be disappointed with their second half display. Despite winning half the kick-outs in the second half, they used the possession poorly and balls were kicked away to Kildare and over the side-line. Traditionally they are a long-ball team and they are not as proficient as the top teams at moving the ball and penetrating with a series of short hand-passes.
Meath got numbers back in defence at times but unlike Kildare were not able to support the forwards and their attack were often isolated and out-numbered. The half-forward line was often unoccupied leaving no outlet for the defence to kick ball into. The only tactic that looked like it would work was early direct ball to Sheridan. But Joe was starved of good possession in the second half. Despite this, Meath have made progress and are a better team than last year. Kevin Reilly and Shane O’Rourke, after long lay-offs with injury, should be even better next season. And Graham Reilly with 1-15 from play in six matches had a great year. I would think that Eamon O’Brien will look to improve the athleticism and pace of the team between now and next summer.