Kildare 0-18 Clare 1-14
With the hugely influential Kevin Feely black carded and Clare having turned a five-point interval deficit into a two-point lead in the final quarter, despite playing into a strong wind, serious questions were being asked, and Sweeney was delighted with the answers.
“I think a couple of fellas stood up there at the end when we needed them. Players are growing as the season is going on. We needed fellas to stand up and become leaders, and they did that.”
Top of the list was match-winner Paul Cribbin, with the former AFL man slotting three points in the game’s defining period, including the 70th-minute match winner.
Clare had the chance to snatch a share of the spoils but Eoin Cleary, who had scored some wonderful points in his tally of seven, dragged a late free wide.
A 42nd-minute goal by the outstanding Shane Brennan was a key score but Kildare had received plenty of warning, with Brennan having struck the butt of the post in the first half, while Clare got through the middle of the home defence on at least three other occasions.
And just three minutes after the goal, Brennan was through one-on-one, but Mark Donnellan came up with a big save.
A repeat of last year’s Division 3 final, when Colm Collins’ men got the better of the Lilywhites, looked very likely when Brennan, Cleary, and Jamie Malone sent over points to make it 1-12 to 0-13.
Kildare lost David Slattery and Feely to injury in the space of two minutes and Feely’s loss was considerable, as the Athy giant had claimed marks, distributed astutely, and continued the impressive free-taking with either foot that was a feature of the previous week’s win over Down.
Cribbin showed real leadership, carrying with purpose and taking on responsibility.
His first point was a super effort and Kildare got themselves ahead twice but Cleary angled shots over from tight on the left, with his left boot, and no-one would have argued had the Munster men gone away from Newbridge with a draw.
But with time running out, Cribbin drove forward from the middle, beating three players before offloading to Ollie Lyons. And with Ben McCormack looking for an option, it was the Johnstownbridge star who was available, taking possession and finishing coolly.
M Donnellan; M O’Grady, D Hyland, O Lyons; J Byrne, E Doyle, K Cribbin; K Feely 0-7(fs), T Moolick 0-1; F Conway 0-1, N Kelly 0-2, P Cribbin 0-3; D Slattery, F Dowling 0-2(1f), C Healy 0-1.
C Hartley for Slattery BC(52), B McCormack 0-1 for Feely BC (54), C McNally for Healy (58), E Callaghan for Kelly (70+2)
Joe Hayes; M McMahon, K Harnett, John Hayes; L Markham, G Kelly, D Ryan; G Brennan 0-1, C O’Connor; C O’Dea, K Sexton 0-1, S Brennan 1-2; E Cleary 0-7(3fs), D Tubridy 0-2(1f), J Malone 0-1.
D Nagle for John Hayes BC (47), C Russell for O’Dea (52), E Collins for S Brennan (46)
P Hughes (Armagh).