Meath snatched victory from the jaws of defeat to take a major step in their quest for a return to top-tier football with this victory in driving snow at Páirc Tailteann yesterday.
For most of this pulsating encounter, it looked as if Kildare would continue their winning run against their close neighbours. The Lilywhites were victorious the last time the counties clashed in the league, while they had nine points to spare when they ended the Royals’ Leinster title hopes in 2017.
However, the Meath men now sit top of the pile after a goal from the penalty spot from substitute Barry Dardis in the first of five added minutes gave them a memorable victory. The foul on Shane McEntee as the clock ticked over the 70-minute mark resulted in Keith Cribbin being sin-binned and sub Dardis made no mistake from the pressure kick.
Kildare had led from the third minute, but they were unable to find an equaliser in the five minutes of added time. A solitary point from a Neil Flynn free on 49 minutes was all they had to show for their second-half efforts.
Meath dominated possession, but squandered numerous opportunities and it looked as if their tally of 12 wides would come back to haunt them at the final whistle. However their never-say-die attitude, which has been evident throughout this campaign, was finally rewarded.
Afterwards, manager Andy McEntee praised his charges’ resilience and determination.
“It would have been easy for fellas to say ‘Look, let’s come back another day’, but I thought they showed everything you’d like to see in a team.
“It’s not the first one we’ve dug from the death. We did it against Armagh. With 15 minutes to go in that game they were a point down and had a gale-force wind behind them and we looked in trouble but we dug that one out.
“I think in general this year, lads are playing to the wire and if you keep doing that, you give yourself every chance.
“Promotion is very much in our own hands, you win your two games and you’re in Division 1, that’s been our stated goal from the start. How do you win two games? You start by winning one. That’s where our focus will have to switch to fairly quickly.”
With Kevin Feely giving them a platform at midfield, the Lilywhites were full value for their 1-7 to 0-5 interval lead. They played the more controlled football in the difficult conditions and kicked a number of fine long-range points throughout the half.
The goal came from Ben McCormack on seven minutes and the full-forward landed another point before being forced off with an injury on 23 minutes. Kildare also had Mick O’Grady sin-binned but still managed to outscore the hosts two points in one in that 10-minute spell.
Ben Brennan reduced the deficit within 30 seconds of the restart with his third point, and it was Brennan who again pointed to leave it 1-7 to 0-7 on 48 minutes. A Neil Flynn point on 49 minutes gave Kildare some respite before Barry Dardis pointed a free to leave a goal between the teams. Cillian O’Sullivan reduced the deficit further and then Dardis secured victory with his cooly taken spot-kick.
B Brennan (0-4, 2 frees); B Dardis (1-1, 1-0 pen, 1 free); M Newman (0-2, 1 free); C O’Sullivan, D Campion (0-1 each).
B McCormack (1-1), N Flynn (0-3, 1 free), T Moolick, P Brophy, K Cribbin, J Hyland (0-1 each).
A Colgan; S Lavin, C McGill, R Ryan; G McCoy, D Keogan, S Gallagher; B Menton, S McEntee; C O’Sullivan, B Brennan, D Campion; B McMahon, M Newman, T O’Reilly.
G Reilly for McMahon (h-t), N Kane for McCoy (h-t), B Dardis for Newman (49), P Harnan for Campion (59), M Burke for Burke (60).
M Donnellan; M Dempsey, M O’Grady, D Hyland; C O’Donoghue, E Doyle, P Kelly; K Feely, T Moolick; P Brophy, F Conway, K Cribbin; N Flynn, B McCormack, J Hyland.
A Tyrrell for McCormack (23), P Cribbin for Brophy (49), J Murray for Doyle (53), Kevin O’Callaghan for Conway (56), A O’Neill for Donnellan (56).
D O’Mahoney (Tipperary)