By Brendan O’Brien, O’Connor Park
Meath 0-13Kildare 2-16
Kildare are through to a first Leinster football final in eight years after a straightforward defeat of Meath but there was a sense in Tullamore on Saturday evening that their summer hasn't even started..
The true worth of Cian O’Neill’s Lilywhite project remains up for debate for now having overcome a woeful Laois in the quarter-final and now an ultimately disappointing Meath side on the way there. They face Dublin or Westmea…
Oh, who are we kidding? The Dubs will be a different story altogether in the decider.
Kildare are well-drilled, they look fit and well-built and they have decent players in pretty much every line of the pitch, but they continue to give reason for doubt. Not least up front where they sent 16 balls wide or short over the course of a sweltering evening in front of 12,702 people in Tullamore.
The script focused on the eventual winners from the off and Cathal McNally played a leading role.
The Johnstownbridge corner-forward gave Donnacha Tobin an awful time of it in the opening quarter, rattling off 1-3 from play in that spell and with the goal coming from a shot that squirmed under the goalkeeper after a long ball in from corner-back David Hyland.
Kildare’s backs were especially prominent in attacking mode, with Ollie Lyons and Keith Cribbin regular interlopers, and the Lilywhites had plenty of platform from which to work as they destroyed a one-dimensional Meath in midfield.
Andy McEntee’s side had a Plan A - to launch kick-outs long and down the middle - but Plan B was nowhere to be seen. And how they needed one as Tommy Moolick and Kevin Feely lorded the skies time and again, particularly in the first 35.
The only blot on Kildare’s copybook was a familiar one. Twelve times in the first-half they sent balls either wide of the posts from shots or passes or short of them. Not that it mattered much at the break, which they reached 1-10 to 0-4 to the good.
A way back for Meath was hard to spy at that point. Their attacking muster, such as it was, failed repeatedly on the Kildare bulwark where centre-back Eoin Doyle, and Mick O’Grady in behind him, kept sentinel along the spine.
It was puzzling stuff from Meath, flip-flopping between players who carried the ball into contact, or others who launched long balls into forwards unable to get the better of their man. Meath presented a much more assured face on the restart, but it could have hardly been worse.
Six of the next eight points went their way against a Kildare side that struggled to regain its ascendancy, momentum and work ethic: Donal Lenihan, Bryan Menton and substitute Ruari O Coilean all chipping in with a pair of scores each to squeeze the gap to five points.
It was as close as they got. Kildare did more than enough to close it out from there without ever leaving third gear and they held a lead of seven points before Daniel Flynn palmed a goal to the net minutes from the end having already managed four points already from play.
Scorers for Meath: D Lenihan (0-5, 2 frees); R O Coilean (0-3); B Menton (0-2); S McEntee, J Toher and M Burke (all 0-1).
Scorers for Kildare: D Flynn (1-4); C McNally (1-3): K Felly (0-5, 4 frees): P Brophy (0-2); E Callaghan (0-1); N Flynn (0-1f)
Meath: P O’Rourke;C McGill, D Keogan, D Tobin; P Harnan, M Burke, S McEntee; B Menton, R Jones; J Toher, C O’Sullivan, E Wallace; G Reilly, B McMahon, D Lenihan. Subs: J McEntee for Toher (28); R O Coilean for Wallace (HT); B Conlon for Jones (47); T O’Reilly for McMahon (51); S Tobin for Reilly (57); A Douglas for O’Sullivan (69).
Kildare: M Donnellan; M O’Grady, O Lyons, D Hyland; K Cribbin, E Doyle, J Byrne; K Feely, T Moolick; F Conway, N Kelly, D Slattery; C McNally, D Flynn, P Brophy. Subs: E Callaghan for Brophy (50); F Dowling for Moolick (59); C Healy for McNally (61); P Kelly for Hyland (65); N Flynn for Byrne and E Bolton for Doyle (both 70).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).