Kildare 4-18 Kerry 2-22
Kildare scored a historic victory at Croke Park with their first Christy Ring Cup success, holding off Kerry’s stern challenge to squeeze home with two points to spare.
Their ability to strike for goals at crucial stages of a high tempo game was the key to a thrilling triumph.
Bernard Deay, Gerry Keegan, Ray McLoughney and goalkeeper Paul Dermody, from a penalty, all hit the net as the Lilywhites laid down a statement on their progress as a hurling county.
But it didn’t look likely in the opening stages, when Kerry raced into a 1-5 to 0-2 lead after just seven minutes as they took the game by storm.
Shane Nolan and Mikey Boyle drilled over points to settle Kingdom nerves, and goalkeeper Tadhg Flynn blasted over a free from close on 90 metres.
And in the fifth minute, Flynn’s massive puck-out was gathered by full forward Padraig Boyle, who rifled home a goal
Kildare made a recovery of sorts, with Bernard Deay and Gerry Keegan hitting points to keep their spirits up.
But suddenly they exploded into spectacular action, hitting six points on the spin to level the game by the 18th minute.
Deay, Keegan, Ray McLoughney, Paul Divilly and Martin Fitzgerald were all on target as the contest took on an entirely new shape.
They were awarded a penalty for a foul on Tony Murphy in the 27th minute, and goalkeeper Paul Dermody blasted the ball past Flynn to give them the lead for the first time.
A minute later, they set the game alight with a second goal, Keegan giving Flynn no chance with a bullet-like finish.
But Kerry responded with a goal of their own. John Doran’s long delivery broke to Nolan, who drove a firmly struck shot past Dermody to level the game.
A well taken Thomas Casey point sent Kerry in with a narrow 2-10 to 2-9 advantage at the break.
Nervous defending allowed Ray McLoughney in for a third Kildare goal seven minutes into the second half as they moved back in front
They tempo showed no sign of dropping as both sides attacked with fervour, particularly Kerry, who added scores through John Egan and substitute John Griffin, who fired over a couple of long range gems.
But Brian Lawlor had his men fired up for this one, and they stunned their opponents with a fourth goal in the 54th minute.
Martin Fitzgerald’s shot came back off a post, and Deay smashed in the rebound to put them back in front, a lead they never lost from there to the finish.
Kerry did come close to grabbing a goal that would have brougvt them level five minutes from the end, but Dermody got his angles right, and kept out David Butler’s effort.
The margin was down to a flimsy two points after Nolan and Griffin tagged on points, but the Lilies stood firm for a fervently sought title triumph.
Kerry: T Flynn (0-1, f), B Murphy, T Murnane, D Fitzell, S Weir, D Dineen, T Casey (0-1), D O’Connell, C Harty (0-3), M Boyle (0-1), D Collins (0-1), J Egan (0-3, 2f), D Butler (0-3), P Boyle (1-2), S Nolan (1-4).
Subs: J Griffin (0-3) for Fitzell, B O’Leary for Boyle, J Leahy for Casey, J Casey for Butler
Kildare: P Dermody (1-0, pen), J Doran, F O Muineachain, N O Muineachain, D Harney, M Moloney, R Hoban, E O’Neill, M Fitzgerald (0-2), R Kelly, P Divilly (0-7, 5f), B Deay (1-3), G Keegan (1-4), T Murphy, R McLoughney (1-2).
Subs: P Reidy for Kelly, J O’Malley for Murphy
Referee: S Cleere (Kilkenny)