Since taking charge of the Lilywhites in 2008, the Armagh legend has presided over substantial progress. They have reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals every season under his tenure and a spate of contentious decisions has often hampered their efforts to progress further in games.
Yet the evolution of their team under McGeeney reached a new and important stage yesterday. For the first time they crashed through the national silverware barrier, with Allenwood’s Johnny Doyle hoisting the Division 2 Football League trophy in the Hogan Stand.
What made it all the sweeter was the fact that heavyweights Tyrone were forced to succumb due to the power of Kildare’s finish down the straight.
It was a match that was delicately poised with 10 minutes to go as the teams were locked at 0-10 apiece and extra-time looked a possibility
Yet Kildare reeled off six points on the trot and a late Stephen O’Neill free was all Tyrone could muster.
The summer tests in Croke Park is where this Kildare team will be properly evaluated. But this was a fine way in which to sign off on the league and start to concentrate on the championship endeavours.
On a bitterly cold afternoon at GAA headquarters, Tyrone saw their unbeaten run in 2012 slam to a halt. Mickey Harte has seen his side accumulate five Dr McKenna Cup wins and seven Division 2 football league successes to date but their 13th outing ending that winning sequence.
Of more concern though was the sight of corner-back Aidan McCrory crumpled on the turf near the Hill 16 end during the first half. McCrory was hurt in a clash with Kildare’s towering full-forward Tomas O’Connor and it took 10 minutes of treatment before he was carted off on a stretcher. Thankfully Harte reported afterwards that the injury was not as serious as feared and the defender will make a speedy recovery.
This was a tight and tense contest for long stages and it did not appear likely that one team would storm clear of the other. That Kildare managed to achieve that was largely down to the remarkable impact that Padraig Fogarty had when sprung into action as a 48th-minute substitute.
The introduction of the St Laurence’s player was a game-changing move. Kildare had seven points prior to his entry yet he proved a nuisance to the Tyrone rearguard with his intelligent movement and assured kicking. In a match dominated by claustrophobic defences, Fogarty was the player who engineered space on a frequent basis as he swept over three points from play. Even at the death, he showed maturity to hold up possession when lacking support, and winning a free, which Mikey Conway converted. Everything fell for Kildare towards the end with Johnny Doyle angling a sideline between the posts and Eamonn Callaghan booming over a great point from distance.
Tyrone were unable to stem Kildare’s drive as they struggled in front of the posts. The enterprising play of Mark Donnelly at centre-forward was a plus point as the Carrickmore man covered huge areas throughout. But Sean Cavanagh managed just a point from play, Owen Mulligan’s four-point tally only consisted of one effort from play and Stephen O’Neill endured a frustrating afternoon in terms of scoring.
O’Neill missed a couple of routine frees and also had the best goal chance of the game before the interval. He did superbly to get his hands on a Mulligan delivery but when he swivelled and flashed the ball across the bows of Kildare netminder Shane Connolly, it cannoned off the legs of the umpire rather than nestling in the bottom corner of the net. Restricting Tyrone’s marquee forwards in the scoring department was a vital facet to Kildare’s success. In addition the Red Hands chalked up 11 goals in their league campaign but were unable to replicate that incisive attacking play.
At the end of a marathon first half, that only ended on the 49th minute mark due to the delay when McCrory got injured, Kildare clung to a 0-7 to 0-6 lead. The Lilywhites had been guilty of some poor fouls in the first half but it was noticeable that they tightened up considerably in the second half. They fell 0-9 to 0-7 behind by the 47th minute yet then defended with superb discipline, withdrawing bodies to close off the space available to the Tyrone attacker. The Red Hands only raised two white flags in the closing 25 minutes as their Kildare counterparts ran rampant in those closing stages.
Scorers for Kildare: M Conway 0-5 (0-4f), E O’Flaherty (0-2f, 0-1 ’45), P Fogarty 0-3 each, J Doyle 0-2 (0-1 sideline), T O’Connor, J Kavanagh, E Callaghan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Tyrone: O Mulligan 0-4 (0-3f), S O’Neill 0-3 (0-3f), M Donnelly 0-2, N McKenna, S Cavanagh 0-1 each.
Subs for Kildare: P Fogarty for Smith (48), D Flynn for Foley (60).
Subs for Tyrone: M Murphy for C Cavanagh (blood) (35), J McMahon for McCrory (inj) (35 + 8), C Cavanagh for Murphy (35 + 13), Sean O’Neill for McCaul (63), M Penrose for McKenna (66), Murphy for C Cavanagh (70).
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath).