Kildare’s day in sun marred by spit claim and injuries

The likelihood is that this game will be remembered for an allegation of spitting and half a dozen injuries, as both teams turned the final bend into championship. Pity. This was a tasty slice of football that had more than enough to satisfy the palate
Kildare’s day in sun marred by spit claim and injuries

Tempers flare between the two teams near the end of the game. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

The likelihood is that this game will be remembered for an allegation of spitting and half a dozen injuries, as both teams turned the final bend into championship.

Pity. This was a tasty slice of football that had more than enough to satisfy the palate without all the bad stuff.

That it ended with three players dismissed and more again cautioned was in stark contrast to most of the 80-plus minutes eventually played, but there isn’t any getting away from the dark underbelly that cast a shadow over the afternoon.

Kildare’s Luke Flynn was the first to go for an off-the-ball incident midway through the second half. Meath’s Conor McGill and Brian Conlon followed as normal time elapsed and a major fracas also earned yellows for Meath’s Ethan Devine and Andrew Colgan, and Kildare’s Alex Beirne.

It was Andy McEntee who made the claim afterwards that McGill had been “spat on in the face” and the Meath manager left Newbridge having to ponder not just that, but a mostly disappointing performance and the injuries suffered by Donal Keogan (AC joint) and Brian Menton (ankle ligaments).

All in all, a pretty rubbish day then, but his opposite number, Jack O’Connor, had his own problems to mull over thanks to injuries that forced off Willie Hyland and Kevin Feely (both hamstrings) as well as Paul Cribbin, who departed for hospital with an ankle problem.

Add the absent Daniel Flynn to the casualty list — another with a hamstring problem — and O’Connor is having to dig deep into his reserves as championship approaches, but there were at least positives to be mined in that sense, as they pulled through here.

Take Brian McLoughlin, for example. A member of the All-Ireland U20 winning side in 2018, he replaced Hyland after only nine minutes and delivered an excellent performance up front, where he proved an effective link in the chain and dependable free-taker.

“We reinvented the panel over the last year and a half really, because out of the 39 we picked initially there is only 16 left, so we brought in a number of younger players,” O’Connor said.

“The experience of McLoughlin coming in there today and playing a game of that magnitude will do him an awful lot of good.”

The knock-on effect of this Division 2 semi-final win can’t be underestimated, given that it seals promotion back to the top tier for the county for the first time since 2018. What better place for young prospects like McLoughlin to learn their trade?

A three-point margin belies much of what happened.

Meath only made it so close with six unanswered points down the stretch but Kildare had been comfortably the better team for the opening hour and even when Luke Flynn had been sent off. Only a familiar plethora of wides kept the contest alive.

Most striking was the manner in which they hunted their opponents down, as individuals and as a pack. Meath compounded this with basic errors and by half-time had only managed four points.

McEntee accepted Kildare had dictated the pace and the physicality of the game but couldn’t put his finger on why that should have been the case in a winner-takes-all affair to decide who would return to Division 1.

“I don’t see any particular reason for it,” he said. “It was an important game. You don’t have to be off by much in games like this. If you’re off a little bit it shows. It looks like a lot.

“Kildare were certainly at championship physicality. Unfortunately, I don’t think we matched them until it was probably too late, and even though we probably could have snatched something.”

The crazy thing is that they could have taken it to extra time had Mark Donnellan not snuffed out Darragh Campion’s last-ditch shot, but even that quasi-recovery couldn’t persuade McEntee to see the end credits as some sort of positive. “We’ll see,” he said. “It remains to be seen.”

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