Yes, dad would have been very proud

WAS there ever an occasion like this in the history of the GAA?

On Saturday, hours after his father had been laid to rest, Dermot Earley lined out for Kildare in an All-Ireland senior football qualifier against Antrim.

And Lilywhites boss Kieran McGeeney never expected any other decision.

“Men climb into the jersey and play no matter what colour is on their back,” said McGeeney after this extra-time epic.

“Dermot Earley is that type of man. Representing his county, representing his country is very important to him. He doesn’t take that sort of thing lightly and it showed.”

His arrival onto the pitch with his team-mates for their warm-up 40 minutes before throw-in drew an instantaneous ovation but that was nothing to the cheer that greeted his confirmation as a starter.

The minute’s applause in honour of Earley Snr was sustained, growing in volume as people desperately wanted to pay tribute to the Roscommon man who had become one of their own.

How could his son cope? He did it well until, not surprisingly, running out of steam in the second-half. He was replaced at the start of extra-time before being reintroduced three minutes from the end in an attempt to inspire one final push.

It was a clever move by McGeeney in what was a difficult week for him too because while the ‘do it for Dermot’ speech is obvious, nobody wanted to devalue the midfielder’s loss.

“All they talked about at the wake and the chapel was ‘go out and give us something to smile about this summer’ and I hope we can still go on and do that.”

Paddy Cunningham’s ten point heroics secured the replay for Antrim, although they could have snatched a win at the end of normal and extra-time.

Kildare would have raged had they done so. They had mountains of possession but kicked 21 wides – 13 in the first half. By comparison Antrim had none.

The hosts also spurned two glorious goal chances. With Kildare recovering well from a slow start, Johnny Doyle shot straight at Seán McGreevy in the 14th minute.

In the second half of extra-time, Tomás O’Connor fisted an Eoghan O’Flaherty delivery onto the post but drove the rebound into the side-netting.

Thomas McCann had a good opportunity too in the first half, thundering a piledriver off the top of the crossbar and over.

While Kildare were wasteful, Cunningham was clinical and Kevin McGourty provided three tremendous points from play including a brilliant equaliser in normal time.

Nine of Cunningham’s scores came from frees and McGeeney wasn’t impressed with referee Maurice Deegan’s performance. Accepting that his side had to take responsibility for their shooting said he still expected people to do their job, referring to Deegan and the press for what he deemed the refusal to criticise the officials.

Certainly the decision not to award a penalty in extra-time for a push on the brilliant Ronan Sweeney was strange and many other decisions confused onlookers. It was another Cunningham free that drew the sides level for the last time, James Kavanagh’s chat to Deegan bringing the opportunity inside the 45.

“I’m so proud of the way they stood up and I hope that’s the start for them” said McGeeney. “They were questioned before the game about their mental strength and character and after this, you couldn’t question it.”

And Antrim manager Liam Bradley? “It probably would have been an injustice if either of those two teams had been beaten because both of them had it won, both of them lost it at stages. ”

Kildare: S McCormack; P Kelly, H McGrillen, A Mac Lochlainn; M O'Flaherty, E Bolton 0-1, B Flanagan; D Flynn, D Earley; H Lynch, E Callaghan, J Kavanagh (0-1); P O'Neill (0-2), J Doyle (0-7, 6f), R Sweeney (0-2).

Subs: G White (0-1) for Lynch, E O'Flaherty (0-1) for Flanagan, T O'Connor for O'Neill, K Donnelly for Earley, K Cribbin for M O'Flaherty, O'Neill for Donnelly, M O'Flaherty for Callaghan, Earley for E O'Flaherty.

Antrim: S McGreevy; A Healy, C Brady, J Crozier; J Loughrey, T Scullion, K O'Boyle (0-1), J Loughrey; B Herron, A Gallagher; K McGourty (0-3), K Niblock, T McCann (0-1); P Cunningham (0-10, 9f), M McCann, K Brady.

Subs: CJ McGourty for Brady, S Finch for T McCann, S Kelly for Healy, P Doherty for Niblock, T McCann for Herron.

Ref: M Deegan (Laois).

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