Down deserve credit for hanging in there despite playing second fiddle for most of the second half.
A sensational solo goal by former AFL man Caolán Mooney within five minutes of his interval introduction was critical, but the key moment was the splendid save from Pádraig Fogarty’s 49th minute penalty by substitute goalkeeper Stephen Kane. It was Kane’s first act as he came on for Michael Cunningham, who was shown a black card for hauling down Gary White in conceding the spot kick.
Kane dived to his left to stop Fogarty’s placed attempt at a time when Kildare were a point ahead and though Darroch Mulhall fired a brace to stretch the margin to three, goals from another sub Arthur McCarville and Donal O’Hare, with a point in between from Paul Devlin, snatched the honours.
“It’s a pity; for so much of the game to be in the ascendancy and then finish the game that way, it’s disappointing” said Ryan.
The Kildare manager agreed that there were echoes of the Tyrone match last year, also at St Conleth’s Park, when Kildare lost despite leading by five points with two minutes remaining. The Lilywhites never recovered from that reverse and were subsequently relegated from Division 1. “We’re back out against Meath on Saturday and it’s going to be a big ask. But every game in Division 2 is going to be tough. We have a number of days to prepare and it’s just about getting back at it and go again. This division is very tight. I’m not convinced any team is going to go through it undefeated.”
Down boss, Jim McCorry agreed that the penalty save was the vital moment, as a goal then would have pushed Kildare clear.
“I thought it was a very good game from the start” said McCorry. “A big, strong Kildare side set up very defensive. They had a sweeper and a blanket defence as well which was very hard to break down. It was nice to at least try and compete with them in the first half against a stiff breeze. But they really took the game to us in the second half and were very good. They have a superb inside line. I think they’d one wide in the first half and every ball that went into the inside line seemed to stick, every shot seemed to go over the bar.
“But games can change on a decision. I don’t think there was any doubt about the penalty and black card, but for our goalkeeper to come off the bench and make a save like that was very inspirational for the rest of the team. “They knew they were still in it and you seen a real lift in them. That was a pivotal moment.”
Down looked very sharp and quick early on but struggled to break the Kildare defensive wall. Mark Donnellan saved from Conor Laverty while at the other end, Niall Kelly availed of his goalscoring opportunity.
Donal O’Hare kicked six points for Down but with Fionn Dowling slotting three from play, it was Kildare that led at half time by 1-7 to 0-9.
Kildare looked bound for the points when Devlin’s long distance free rebounded off the crossbar and McCarville was on hand to palm to the net.
From the kickout, Devlin lofted a wonder score and there was still time for O’Hare to slot a third Down goal to confirm the result.
Scorers for Down: D O’Hare 1-6 (0-4fs); P Devlin 0-6(2fs); C Mooney, A McConville 1-0 each; D O’Hagan 0-1.
Scorers for Kildare: F Dowling, D Mulhall (2fs), E O’Flaherty (3fs) 0-4 each; N Kelly 1-1; P Fogarty 0-2
DOWN: M Cunningham, L Howard, D Turley, D O’Hagan, B McArdle, C Garvey, K McKernan, N Madine, P Fitzpatrick, R Johnston, C Maginn, P Devlin, J Johnston, C Laverty, D O’Hare.
Subs: C Mooney for R Johnston (ht), M Poland for Garvey (45), S Kane for Cunningham BC (46), D O’Hanlon for Fitzpatrick (55), A McConville for J Johnston (58), P Turley for Maginn BC (65) .
KILDARE: M Donnellan, C Fitzpatrick, P Kelly, O Lyons, M O’Grady, D O’Brien, E Doyle, H Lynch, P O’Neill, E Callaghan, N Kelly, E O’Flaherty, D Mulhall, P Fogarty, F Dowling.
Subs: G White for Lynch inj (16), F Conway for Doyle (58), D Hyland for Kelly (64), K Cribbin for Mulhall (70)
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow).