The Royal County triumphed in this game largely because they had much more to offer in attack and Darren Fay not only marked his return with a very solid performance at full-back, but also celebrated with a fine goal.
For a Kildare side undermined by the loss of injured midfielders Dermot Earley and Killian Brennan a poor performance was more disheartening than the actual result. Manager John Crofton admitted as much afterwards, when pointing out that it did not come near some of their displays in the latter stages of the League. They were quite competent in defence, competitive at midfield up to the early part of the second half, but struggled up front, with leading scorer John Doyle confined to a minor role.
Notable for the fact that the only scores from frees were a Meath penalty (poorly hit by Joe Sheridan and badly missed by keeper Enda Murphy) and a Doyle point, the game particularly lacked atmosphere in the first 20 minutes. There was a lot of scrappy play and few scores by which to be impressed (until Kevin Reilly kicked Meath’s third point in the 19th minute from about 45 yards) and a lot of missed chances in the first half.
In fact, the first real excitement was engendered by Fay’s goal, which came in the 27th minute, and basically materialised because he had been dragged up the field by his immediate opponent, Padraig O’Neill. Fay ran into space to take a pass from Stephen Bray and finished superbly. Almost immediately afterwards after Kildare worked the ball downfield, he was in perfect position (with the goalie off his line) to deflect a shot from Ken Donnelly which was heading for the net.
At the break it was 1-4 to 0-5 and, indicative of Kildare’s scoring difficulties, only one of the points came from Doyle. He started at full-forward and quickly transferred to the centre, but saw very little of the ball, quite apart from the fact that Meath captain Anthony Moyles played very consistently.
After ten minutes of the second half, only Fay’s goal separated the sides and there were signs of a Kildare recovery in the way Doyle, better supported, had kicked two quick points. But, that was about as good as it good for them. Meath put over four points in a six-minute period, with Joe Sheridan doing some very good work at corner-forward and Peadar Byrne impressive on the right wing (apart from the fact that his marker, Emmet Bolton, had the freedom to go forward regularly).
Meath were starting to control the game, helped by the tightness of their defensive play and the industry of Mark Ward in particular at midfield, when they had full-forward Brian Farrell red-carded in the 56th minute. Yellow-carded three minutes earlier for a simple jersey-pull, he was reported by the linesman for allegedly striking and was promptly ordered off by Aidan Mangan.
It had no effect on the game, with Meath getting their second goal five minutes later. Mangan awarded a penalty, questionably it seemed at the time, for an attempted leg-block. Sheridan hit the ball low, with no great power, and while Murphy moved the right way, it went under his body. In remaining time, Bolton was rewarded with a Kildare goal just before he was withdrawn, and the Kildare goalkeeper finished on a high note with a good save from Reilly.
It was one of those occasions when you were glad to hear the final whistle.
l Aidan Mangan’s refereeing was well up to standard and he made few mistakes.
Scorers for Meath: J. Sheridan 1-4 (1-0 penalty); S. Bray and P. Byrne 0-2 each; D. Fay 1-0; K. Reilly, P. Curran and B. Farrell 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kildare: E. Bolton 1-1; J. Doyle 0-4 (0-1 free); A. Rainbow, K. O’Neill and T. Fennin 0-1 each.
B. Murphy; E. Harrington, D. Fay, N. McKeigue; S. Kenny, A. Moyles (capt.), C. King; M. Ward, N. Crawford; P. Byrne, K. Reilly, N. McLoughlin; J. Sheridan, B. Farrell, S. Bray. Subs: P. Curran for McLoughlin (ht); C. Ward for Byrne (70th).
E. Murphy; A. MacLochlainn, E. Callaghan, D. Lyons; A. Rainbow (capt.), M. Hogarty, E. Bolton; K. O’Neill, R. Glavin; J. Kavanagh, P. O’Neill, K. Donnelly; T. Fennin, J. Doyle, M. Conway.
Subs: J. Phillips for Donnelly and R. Sweeney for Kavanagh (ht); M. Foley for Hogarty (56th); D. McCormack for Conway and M. Scanlan for Bolton (65th).
A. Mangan (Kerry).