Kildare 2-11 Meath 0-14
Kildare finished very strongly to snatch victory in a pulsating All-Ireland SFC round 3 Qualifier at a throbbing Páirc Tailteann tonight.
The Lilywhites maintained their incredible record in backdoor clashes under Kieran McGeeney – they have won 10 and drawn one of the games played on this route since the Armagh man took over in 2008 – thanks a telling burst that produced a goal and two points between the 65th and 67th minutes.
The sides were level when Emmet Bolton and Ronan Sweeney pointed before the former palmed home the defining goal three minutes from time, after brilliant work by the excellent James Kavanagh and Tomás O’Connor.
With three minutes added though, Meath kept battling and they reduced the deficit to three points thanks to scores from Stephen Bray and a Brian Farrell free.
Time ran out on them though and it’s Kildare that progress to round 4, where they will play the losers of tomorrow’s Ulster final.
Cian Ward opened the scoring with a brilliantly converted free by Cian Ward in the second minute from 44m into the teeth of a strong wind.
O’Connor was into the action early for Kildare however, and though Kevin Reilly won the first contest, he was outmuscled in the third minute by the full-forward. Reilly and goalkeeper Brendan Murphy combined to pull O’Connor down.
Johnny Doyle stepped up to take the resultant penalty and just like last Saturday night in Portlaoise, sent the custodian the wrong way when planting the shot to the right corner.
Meath’s response was impressive though, as they hit back with three points in succession. All of them were quality efforts too, the first coming as Ward twisted and turned well before swinging over with his left.
Ciaran Lenehan beat four tackles before laying off to Seamus Kenny for the next and then Stephen Bray produced a replica of the Ward effort to put Meath back in front.
Kildare began to get on top around midfield however, with Johnny Doyle and Daryl Flynn very prominent and they hit their own flurry of three.
Eamonn Callaghan switched with Morgan O’Flaherty and they both kicked points, either side of an intricate move that ended with Pádraig O’Neill rocketing a shot just over the Meath crossbar.
Seamus McEnaney had seen enough an introduced Mark Ward in place of Brian Meade at midfield. Soon after, a very groggy looking Lenehan was forced to depart.
Kieran McGeeney made his own change, bringing Kavanagh into the attack in place of Rob Kelly.
Ward converted two frees to bookend a Fionn Dowling point before Kavanagh arced over a splendid effort from tight on the left on the 20m line and Kildare were just about worthy of their 1-6 to 0-7 half time lead.
When Hugh McGrillen burst forward to point soon after the resumption, Meath supporters were bracing themselves for the traditional second half onslaught from Kildare but instead, the Royals were magnificent, producing their best performance of the season.
Shane Connolly was forced into a smart save from Cian Ward as Meath gradually wound up the tempo. The hosts knocked over four of the next five scores to bring the sides level and it was nip and tuck from there until the end.
Crucially, Meath spurned some excellent chances to hit the front but it was something they never managed to do. The loss of captain Seamus Kenny to a gaping head wound 12 minutes from the end of time was undoubtedly significant too, as he had been very prominent.
Kildare made no mistake when they got their opportunity and critically, they began winning the breaking ball in those minutes, having struggled in that department for much of the second half.
With those possession, they carved out the winning scores expertly and continue their Qualifier success story.
Kildare: S Connolly; A Mac Lochlainn, M Foley, H McGrillen 0-1; G White, M O’Flaherty 0-1, E Bolton 1-2; J Doyle 1-2 (1-0 pen, 0-2fs), D Flynn; P O’Neill 0-1, E O’Flaherty, E Callaghan 0-1; R Kelly, T O’Connor, F Dowling 0-1. Subs: J Kavanagh 0-1 for Kelly (23); B Flanagan for White (ht); C Brophy for Dowling (49); R Sweeney 0-1 for E O’Flaherty (56); O Lyons for Bolton (68).
Meath: B Murphy; G O’Brien, K Reilly, C King; C Lenehan, S McAnarney, M Burke; S O’Rourke 0-1, B Meade; P Gilsenan, J Sheridan, S Kenny 0-2; S Bray 0-2, G Reilly, C Ward 0-8(5fs, 2 45s). Subs: M Ward for Meade (23); B Farrell 0-1(f) for Lenehan inj (29); J Queeney for G Reilly (46); P O’Rourke for Kenny inj (58); A Moyles for Queeney (64).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).