Kildare will play Division 1 football next year, for the first time since 2018, after a dominant win against Meath in a second-tier semi-final in Newbridge that threatened to boil over when the result was all but posted.
Kildare were already down to 14 men when the game entered injury-time and an off-the-ball incident led to a general conflagration of grabbing and posturing that ended with five men sanctioned. Four of them were wearing green.
Meath came out the worst of it with the referee Barry Cassidy sending Conor McGill and Brian Conlon off on straight reds. It fed into a high-octane ending out of kilter with what had been until then a straightforward affair for the eventual winners.
The unique demands of this Covid-affected campaign mean there will be no final to follow. It won’t matter a jot to Kildare. This was pegged as the biggest game of the season for both sides given Dublin’s hegemony in Leinster, so this was all or nothing.
The belated tempers reflected that.
Maybe the most impressive part of it was the adversity Kildare had to overcome. Midfielder Luke Flynn walked on a straight red after 50 minutes and Jack O’Connor’s side lost Willie Hyland, Paul Cribbin and Kevin Feely to injury to boot.
None of it lessened their hold on this one until it was too late for Meath.
The injury issues are concerns for early July, when the Lilywhites are slated to begin their Leinster Championship campaign, but the manner in which they held sway against a side deemed to be their equal is hugely encouraging.
For Meath, this must be a slap in the face. Not only does it end their hopes of an immediate return to the top league division, it also leaves them with uncomfortable questions ahead of their own provincial campaign in the weeks to come.
They too lost players to injury. Brian Menton and Donal Keogan failed to finish but the problems they had in attack were compounded at the far end where Kildare had their number in spite of a wide count that reached double figures soon after the break.
That latter fact won’t have escaped O’Connor’s attention either.
Kildare wasted no time in kicking into gear, their promising start franked by a Willie Hyland goal from close in after five minutes when the corner-forward was picked out from afar by a clever and accurate Neil Flynn long ball.
Hyland hobbled off just four minutes later but Kildare’s rude health was typified by his replacement Brian McLoughlin who scored four points and played the link role well as they continued on their merry way.
Meath enjoyed a decent spell midway through the first-half, when Kildare had to suffer the loss to injury of Paul Cribbin as well, but it was no more than a mirage on a muggy day that was made bearable by the cloud cover.
Flynn continued to orchestrate so much of what Kildare did well and, while Kevin Feely found the side-netting with a good goal chance, the hosts still found themselves sitting on a six-point half-time lead.
Minds wandered back to their Leinster Championship meeting last winter when a similar advantage unspooled in the face of five second-half Meath goals but the home defence was dominant here and never likely to offer the same succour.
Meath were still six points down when Fionn Reilly had a goal chance snuffed out by the advancing Mark Donnell midway through the second-half and even the dismissal of Flynn with 20 minutes to go couldn’t inject any momentum into the visitors’ efforts.
Meath did finally launch a late rally of sorts with six unanswered points to narrow the gap to five points, the last two of them coming after the flare-up, and Donnellan had to save an 80th-minute Darragh Campion shot to secure the win.
It shouldn’t have come to that.
B McLoughlin (0-5, 2 frees); J Hyland (1-0); N Flynn (0-3, 1 free); K Feely (0-2, 1 mark); D Kirwan (0-2); S Ryan, A Beirne (both 0-1).
J Morris (0-4, 2 frees); C Hickey (0-2); M Newman (0-2 frees); F Reilly, E Devine, B McMahon, C O’Sullivan, J Wallace and E Wallace (all 0-1);
M Donnellan; M Dempsey, M O‘Grady, e Doyle; K Flynn, D Hyland, R Houlihan; L Flynn, A Masterson; n Flynn, F Conway, P Cribbin; J Hyland, K Feely, D Kirwan.
B McLoughlin for W Hyland (9); A Beirne for Cribbin (16); S O’Sullivan for Feely (42); C Hartley for Doyle and S Ryan for Conway (both 56); D Malone for Kirwan (71).
A Colgan; S Lavin, C McGill, D Keogan, C Hickey, S McEntee, F Reilly; B Menton, E Devine; P Harnan, B McMahon, M Costello; C O’Sullivan, T O’Reilly, J Morris.
B Conlon for Menton (32); J Wallace for O’Reilly (HT); E Wallace for Costello (38); J Scully for Keogan (45); R Ryan for Lavin, D Campion for Harnan and M Newman for McMahon (all 55).
B Cassidy (Derry).