Meath 1-17 Kildare 1-11
Meath upset the odds in spectacular fashion when emerging as deserving winners over 14-man Kildare in the first of the two Leinster semi-finals at Croke Park.
Under siege manager, Seamus McEnaney oversaw a stunning success for his unheralded side, who turned around some dreadful recent form to take the spoils.
Despite becoming eligible yesterday by playing a minute of a Kildare SHC match, Seanie Johnston played no part for the Lilywhites.
It all began so well for Kildare as James Kavanagh put them ahead after 30 seconds and Emmet Bolton slotted over five minutes later.
Meath were to show outstanding resolve throughout this encounter however, and with Conor Gillespie magnificent around the middle, they began to hurt Kildare with their pace on the counter.
The excellent Damien O’Carroll got them off the mark before Joe Sheridan, who would go on to have his best game ever on Mick Foley brought the sides level.
Alan Forde produced a very eye-catching performance as well, and his speed was very telling. He put Meath in front before Graham Reilly notched up his first point of the day.
Mikey Conway (free) and Johnny Doyle restored parity but Meath went on the offensive once more with three pointed frees from Brian Farrell.
Back came Kildare and it was Eoghan O’Flaherty’s turn to show off his place-kicking skills, converting three frees of his own, including one from 45m that was a particularly crisp strike.
Sheridan hit back immediately though with a tremendous kick using the outside of his right boot from 40m that gave his side a 0-8 to 0-7 half time advantage.
Kildare are renowned for their third-quarter bursts and though still seeming to be slightly lacking in ideas and most definitely devoid of the usual numbers running off the shoulder, they still made what seemed to be a telling run.
Kieran McGeeney’s crew registered the second half’s first three points thanks to Tomás O’Connor and an Alan Smith brace.
Reilly responded for Meath but Smith claimed his third point in the 48th minute to put two between the sides once again.
Amazingly though, Kildare would not score another point and they had already received a warning when Sheridan dragged a low shot wide under pressure from Foley.
Meath continued to dominate the middle and with so many Kildare players underperforming, maintained their belief and composure.
Brian Farrell took a lovely ball from Gillespie to slot a neat point, followed by Sheridan’s conversion of a 45.
Kildare had Darryl Flynn sent off for a second yellow card offence when he lunged for a loose ball with his boot, having made a tremendous block. To rub salt into the wounds, Farrell popped over the free.
Meath were dealt a severe blow though, when conceding a freak goal in the 55th minute. It came initially when a Bolton shot for a point came back into play off the upright. O’Connor recycled the ball to O’Flaherty, who shovelled it to Conway. Conway’s shot was saved by Meath goalkeeper David Gallagher, but the ball rebounded off the retreating Mickey Burke and into the net.
Undeterred though, Meath bounced straight back and when Shane Connolly saved from Sheridan, the full-forward managed to dispossess Foley to enable Farrell to claim his sixth point of the day.
Reilly levelled before substitute Peadar Byrne drove home a magnificent goal after taking a pass from Carroll.
That was the signal for Meath to ram home their advantage, with further substitutes, Stephen Bray and Jamie Queeney (two) pushing them six points clear.
Meath: B Farrell 0-6(4fs); G Reilly, J Sheridan(1 45) 0-3 each; P Byrne 1-0; J Queeney 0-2; A Forde, D Carroll, S Bray 0-1 each
Kildare: A Smith, E O’Flaherty (fs) 0-3 each; M Burke 1-0 (own goal); E Bolton, J Kavanagh, M Conway(f); J Doyle, T O’Connor 0-1 each
Meath: D Gallagher; D Keogan, B Menton, C Lenihan; D Tobin, S McAnarney, M Burke; C Gillespie, B Meade; A Forde, D Carroll, G Reilly; B Farrell, J Sheridan, C Ward. Subs: E Harringotn for Lenihan (18); S Bray for Ward (41); P Byrne for Meade (48); K Reilly for Menton inj (67); J Queeney for Forde (69)
Kildare: S Connolly; H McGrillen, M Foley, P Kelly; E Bolton, M O’Flaherty, O Lyons; P O’Neill, D Flynn; E O’Flaherty, M Conway, J Doyle; J Kavanagh, T O’Connor, A Smith. Sub: P Fogarty for Doyle (50); R Sweeney O’Neill (63); E Callaghan for Conway (63); D Earley for O’Connor (63)