Kildare smash and grab

Kildare 1-17 Wicklow 2-12

Two late points from Ronan Sweeney and John Doyle tilted the scales in the Lilywhites' favour but, in fairness, a fully-committed Wicklow deserved a kinder fate.

Kildare manager Pádraig Nolan admitted as much: "We were blessed to get out with a win.

"As I expected, Wicklow threw everything at us and when they went four points in front immediately after the resumption, it looked curtains for us.

"In was a typical local derby dogfight and I must confess we were extremely fortunate to win."

Although Kildare opened the scoring with a point from midfielder Killian Brennan after just 30 seconds, Wicklow, with six players making their senior championship debut, took this all-action game by storm.

Displaying no Croke Park nerves, Wicklow played magnificently but three missed gilt-edged goal-scoring chances cost them dearly and robbed them of a famous victory. Full-forward Wayne O'Gorman missed two clear-cut chances, while wing-back Brendan Ó Hannaidh shot wide from a great position as Wicklow took the game to Kildare in devastating fashion.

A bitterly disappointed Wicklow manager Hugh Kenny was proud of his charges: "The laugh is now on the critics who felt Wicklow football was a big joke. We were convinced we would win this game by three points and would have, only for missing some gilt-edged opportunities.

"There is no doubt but we were the superior team on the day. However, the gods did not smile kindly on us," said Kenny.

Wicklow threatened to blow Kildare off the pitch.

Playing superb football at a breathtaking pace, they completely overshadowed the odds-on favourites and only the brilliant point-scoring expertise of left corner-forward John Doyle kept Kildare in the hunt.

Wicklow - despite O'Hannaidh and O'Gorman's misses and their wides tally of nine in the first half - led by two points after the opening quarter.

But they were hauled back to level terms at seven points apiece at the interval and that was all due to a couple of glaring misses.

However, it looked like Wicklow's superior brand of football would reap dividends when corner-forward Paul Earls, who had a tremendous match, netted 45 seconds after the break.

Left half-forward Thomas Harney floated over a point and Wicklow looked set to steamroll their shocked opponents.

When left half-forward Harney scored Wicklow's second goal in the 46th minute to put his side six points clear, it looked all over for Kildare.

But, as Wicklow manager Kenny put it: "The hand of God took over."

Doyle sent in a high shot. Goalkeeper Robert Hollingsworth did get a hand to it but Tadhg Fennin was in like a flash to fist the ball to the net.

This lucky goal threw Kildare a much-needed lifeline and with Doyle, Fennin and promising wing-forward Eamonn Callaghan kicking some wonderful points, Kildare came back to level the game for the fifth time in the 55th minute.

Then Fennin edged Kildare into the lead and when the 1998 provincial champions opened up a two-points gap entering the home straight, it looked over for the no-hopers.

But Wicklow rose to the task and came back to draw with an inspirational point from Earls three minutes from the end of normal time.

However, Kildare's experience told and Sweeney and Doyle struck with their two match-winning points at the death.

Scorers: Kildare: T Fennin 1-3 (0-1 from free), J Doyle 0-7 (0-3 from frees), E Callaghan 0-3, K Brennan, R Sweeney, M Foley, K Ennis 0-1 each. Wicklow: P Earls 1-6 (0-2 from frees), T Harney 1-1, W Gorman 0-2, D Dillon, A Ellis, L Glynn 0-1 each.

KILDARE: E Murphy; A Rainbow, D Hendy, P Mullarkey; M Foley, G Ryan, D Lyons; K Brennan, W Heffernan; E Callaghan, P O'Neill, R Sweeney; T Fennin, S McKenzie-Smith, J Doyle.

Subs: M Hogarty for O'Neill, K Ennis for Hendy, D Earley for Brennan, R Glavin for McKenzie-Smith.

WICKLOW: R Hollingsworth; C Hyland, B Daly, T Burke; K Manning, D O'Hannaidh; B O'Hannaidh, D Dillon, J Stafford; D Smullen, L Glynn, T Harney; P Earls, W O'Gorman, A Ellis.

Subs: G Duffy for Manning, J.P Davis for Harney, D O'Sullivan for Ellis, J Daniels for Davis.

Referee: F Flynn (Leitrim).

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