Kildare 3-20 Cavan 1-9
It was called a sideshow but whether we liked it or not, it was the main story.
Kildare cruised to the anticipated comfortable victory over Cavan at Kingspan Breffni Park but it was Seanie Johnston’s debut for Kildare against his native county that most of the 14,558 in attendance wanted to see.
The former Breffni captain finally made his introduction in the 62nd minute, initially to a chorus of boos from the home support, but then a loud hail of cheers from the sizeable visiting contingent.
Ironically, he was picked up by good friend Ronan Flanagan and took some time to get his first touch. That arrived right on 70 minutes, and though he kicked a right-footed shot wide – again to resounding cheers – Marty Duffy awarded a free kick.
Johnston took it with his left and made no mistake, and the Kildare supporters shouted their approval.
As for the game itself, it was easy for Kildare although they started very nervously. Had Cavan been more clinical, they might have tested the Lilywhites’ psyche after a dreadful performance that saw them turfed out of the Leinster championship by Meath.
They weren’t though. As well as that, they played man-to-man, and Kildare made use of the space clinically, not kicking the first of only three wides until the 54th minute.
Tomás O’Connor and Alan Smith were the chief tormentors, with James Kavanagh pulling the strings.
Mikey Conway, Emmet Bolton and Smith – who finished with 1-5 from play – were the goal scorers, although Eugene Keating can be very proud of his brilliant finish for Cavan’s major.
Cavan began confidently and pointed frees from Jack Brady and Niall McDermott – although the latter award was absurd on Duffy’s part – gave them the ideal start.
The deadly-accurate Smith provided Kildare’s settler in the sixth minute and Kieran McGeeney’s side settled into the game, Eoghan O’Flaherty kicking the next three points from frees.
With Johnny Doyle and the O’Flaherty brothers augmenting the midfield efforts of Mick Foley and Rob Kelly, and Bolton providing his customary running from deep, Kildare continued to drive forward.
Tomás O’Connor remains to impress as an influential target man and having already provided assists for two points – the tally was 1-5 by his substitution - unselfishly laid off to the centre-forward, having taken a pass from the raiding Bolton.
Seven minutes later, Clane man fed Kavanagh. With everyone thinking that he was going to chip over, Kavanagh slid a visionary left-footed pass to Bolton, who had plenty of time to slot goal number two.
Conway and the splendid Smith shared four points and it was 2-11 to 0-4 at the break.
Keating found the net for Cavan two minutes after the restart, and it really was a magnificently-taken score. He showed good strength to outmuscle and outfield Peter Kelly under a high delivery. Then came the subtlety, with a delightful half-volley slid low beyond Shane Connolly.
Points from McDermott and Brady frees followed but O’Flaherty responded with three points from placed balls to quell the resistance.
Dermot Earley came on and was involved in a move that led to Johnny Doyle’s only point, before lofting one over himself.
Then came Johnston’s Kildare debut and Smith’s goal arrived four minutes from time. Again, Kavanagh was involved. His low shot beat James Reilly but the desperately retreating Joshua Hayes somehow blocked it on the line.
The rebound only came to Smith though and he found the corner of the net from close range.
The final act of the game was Johnston’s pointed free.
Maybe now, we can get back to talking about the football.
Kildare: A Smith 1-5; E O’Flaherty 0-8(7fs); M Conway 1-4(0-2fs); J Doyle, D Earley, S Johnston(f) 0-1 each
Cavan: E Keating 1-1; N McDermott, J Brady 0-3(fs) each; G McKiernan 0-2 each;
KILDARE: S Connolly; A Mac Lochlainn, P Kelly, H McGrillen; E Bolton, M O’Flaherty, E Doyle; M Foley, R Kelly; E O’Flaherty, M Conway, J Doyle; J Kavanagh, T O’Connor, A Smith. Subs: O Lyons for Mac Lochlainn (43); D Earley for Foley (54); R Sweeney for Conway (58); S Johston for E O’Flaherty (62); P Fogarty for O’Connor (62)
CAVAN: J Reilly; J McLoughlin K Clarke, D Reilly; T Corr, D Tighe, R Flanagan; P O’Reilly, G McKiernan; D Givney, K Meehan, N Smith; N McDermott, E Keating, J Brady. Subs: J Hayes for Reilly (34); M McKeever for Tighe (ht); R Maloney-Derham for Givney (ht); D McKiernan for Corr (43); F Flanagan for McLoughlin (65)
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo).