Colm Collins’ men couldn’t rely on Longford getting the desired result against Westmeath though and played with real vigour for 56 minutes, causing the table-toppers untold problems defensively at St Conleth’s Park.
They led by two points at that stage, after Jamie Malone kicked his fourth point from play, but that was to be their last score of the game, while Kildare hit seven on the trot to seal the win.
The hosts’ conditioning and game management was notable in this defining period, as was the depth of their panel, with the hugely experienced Eamonn Callaghan, in particular, having a massive impact after his introduction.
Last year’s skipper scored two points and had a hand in three others. Defenders David Hyland and Ciarán Fitzpatrick also got in on the scoring act while Eoghan O’Flaherty brought his tally for the game to seven.
David Tubridy was sent off deep in injury time on a straight red card after an altercation with Ciarán Fitzpatrick right under the nose of linesman Pádraig Hughes, who consulted Cormac Reilly before the referee took action.
This will rule the Clare talisman out of League final in three weeks time.
“It took us a while to get into the game but I felt that once we got going and found our rhythm, we had two distinct periods — one in the first half and one towards the end of the second half. We looked very good, ” said Kildare manager, Cian O’Neill.
“I’m happy overall. I think the performance across the 73, 74 minutes was a good performance and we still have some areas we know we can address. The lads are always trying to do the right thing.
“Early on in the league we were forcing what we were trying to do and it wasn’t coming off and that’s frustrating. But I think the longer you’re in a group the more you click, the more you improve and I think we’re starting to see the benefits of that.”
There wasn’t a blanket in sight as the teams went toe-to-toe until the Bannermen finally wilted late on. Alan Smith was very sharp in the first half at full-forward, scoring four points from play as Kildare’s policy of getting the ball forward quickly via kick-passing paid dividends. Tommy Moolick, Niall Kelly and Paul Cribbin also contributed with wonderful scores from distance, while Cribbin should probably have goaled when fisting over and Fionn Dowling was inches away as well.
As good as they were on the attack though, they were opened up at times defensively and coughed up far too many frees (17 in the first half), although that was an area of significant improvement in the latter period.
Tubridy and Eoin Cleary punished the indiscretions from placed balls, while Jamie Malone, who also scored four points from play, was clearly enjoying himself.
Pat Burke scored an 11th minute goal and that helped make it 0-11 to 1-8 at the break, with the Bannermen aided by the wind after the resumption.
Gary Brennan was flourishing in the middle and when Cleary and Malone pointed, it was 1-14 to 0-15 with 14 minutes of normal time remaining.
However, they couldn’t stay with Kildare when it counted and the frustration appeared to get to Tubridy in the end. It was all smiles after the final whistle though, and after the Division 3 final, the teams will resume rivalries in the second tier next year.
E O’Flaherty 0-7(5fs); A Smith 0-4; P Cribbin, N Kelly 0-3 each; E Callaghan 0-2; T Moolick, C Fitzpatrick, D Hyland 0-1.
D Tubridy 0-6(3fs, 145); J Malone, E Cleary (3fs) 0-4 each, P Burke 1-0.
T Corley, P Kelly, D Hyland, O Lyons, C Fitzpatrick, F Conway, H McGrillen, K Feely, T Moolick, P O’Neill, E O’Flaherty, P Cribbin, N Kelly, A Smith, F Dowling.
K Murnaghan for McGrillen (ht), E Callaghan for Dowling (47), J Byrne for O’Neill (50), E O’Connor for O’Flaherty (70+1).
J Hayes, S Malone, K Harnett, M McMahon, P Lillis, D Ryan, C O’Dea, G Brennan, C O’Connor, S Collins, E Cleary, J Malone, K Sexton, D Tubridy, P Burke.
S McGrath for O’Dea (ht), P Collins for Sexton (44), E Coughlan for Malone (58), S Haugh for McGrath (67), G Kelly for Lillis (70+1)
C Reilly (Meath)