There was late drama as Wicklow footballers gave red-hot favourites Kildare a real fright at Netwatch Cullen Park this evening as the Leinster senior football championship got under way before an attendance of 3,800.
The Lilywhites had looked comfortable for most of this game. They were never led by the Garden County but will reflect on the fact that they shot 11 wides, a good number from very scorable positions.
The game appeared to be petering out when Cian O'Neill's side led 0-14 to 0-8 with just 11 minutes of normal time left. But then Wicklow captain Dean Healy made a strong run through the heart of the Kildare defence, before laying the ball off to right half forward Darren Hayden who rifled a great shot to the Kildare rigging.
When left full forward Pat O'Connor pointed out of open play the Kildare lead was down to a mere two points. The momentum was with Wicklow but they shot two wides before Kildare forced play upfield and substitute Neil Flynn pointed a free.
Wicklow had the last say with an injury time point from substitute Daniel Keane.
Mark Jackson, the Wicklow goalie, who pointed one long range free in the second half, centred a 40 metre free deep in injury time but Kildare held out to record an unconvincing win.
It was a game that will not live long in the memory and Kildare, for whom Kevin Feely at midfield had a fine game along with forwards Eoghan O'Flaherty and Adam Tyrell, their two free-takers.
After a featureless opening half Kildare held an 0-9 to 0-4 interval lead, the highlight being a brilliant save by Wicklow 'keeper Jackson on 33 minutes from a blistering shot from David Slattery.
The second half was going along expected lines until that late Wicklow rally put pressure on the Lillies but John Evans men were unable to repeat last year's shock in Leinster when Carlow took Kildare's scalp.
Kildare started the game without scheduled full back Mick O'Grady, who was replaced by Mark Hyland while Wicklow's listed full forward Chris O'Brien did not start, with Conor McGraynor filling the No 14 shirt.
Scorers: Kildare: A Tyrell 0-5, 0-4 frees, E O'Flaherty 0-4, 0-3 frees, B McCormack 0-2, F Conway, P Brophy, D Hyland, N Flynn (free) 0-1 each. Wicklow: D Hayden 1-0, M Kenny, P O'Connor 0-2 each, M Jackson (free), D Healy, P O'Toole, C McGraynor (free), T Smith, D Keane 0-1 each.
Kildare: M Donnellan; M Dempsey, M O'Grady, D Hyland; P Kelly, E Doyle, K Cribbin; K Feely, F Conway; D Slattery, B McCormack, E O'Flaherty; A Tyrell, P Brophy, J Hyland. Subs: C O'Donoghue for Cribbin (48); N Flynn for O'Flaherty (48); C Hartley for McCormack (55); J Gibbons for Tyrrell (68).
Wicklow: M Jackson; E Murtagh, R O'Brien, J Snell; D Devereux, S Mooney, D Fitzgerald; D Healy, P O'Toole; D Hayden, A McLoughlin, T Smith; M Kenny, C McGraynor, P O'Connor. Subs: C McGee for McLoughlin (h/t); C O'Brien for McGraynor (44); O Manning for Mooney (47); D Keane for Hayden (67).
Referee: N Mooney (Cavan).
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