LOUTH kept what is becoming a customary run of wins in January going by claiming the prized scalp of Kildare in Newbridge.
The Wee County men are O’Byrne Cup champions and the manner in which they fought to stay in touch in yesterday’s semi-final was an indication of their desire to maintain their grip on the trophy.
They finished spectacularly with a goal and three points in the final four minutes or so of play, although there was a touch of fortune about Declan Byrne’s 67th minute goal.
By that stage Byrne, who started at right corner-back, had become a free man after the 47th minute sending off of Brian Flanagan.
Flanagan could have no complaints about Cormac Reilly’s decision to send him packing, his two injudicious tackles clear yellow card offences and he knew his fate after the second on Aaron Hoey.
Kildare pulled Rob Kelly back into the space vacated by Flanagan at centre-back and Gary White continued to command at full-back. Karl Ennis pointed a free to stretch the home side’s advantage to two points but scores from Colm Judge (free), Byrne (from distance) and JP Rooney (free) gave Peter Fitzpatrick’s men the lead.
Veteran defender Anthony Rainbow was outstanding all afternoon and he restored parity with a brilliant point from tight on the right touchline and when substitute James Kavanagh pointed from close range with less than six minutes remaining, it looked like the hosts might carve out the victory.
Byrne was revelling in the freedom of the park though, and when found in space down the left flank, sent a floating shot from about 35m that seemed destined to bring the sides level again.
It wasn’t to be though, as the ball dipped suddenly, deceiving Kildare goalkeeper Shane McCormack and ending in the net via the upright. Points from Judge (free), Ronan Carroll and Shane Lennon sealed a fine Louth win.
Louth had begun in impressive fashion rifling over three points in as many minutes, Brian White and Judges converting frees either side of a magnificent score from wing-back Ray Finnegan.
Kildare roared back into the game, with Rainbow providing much of the impetus from wing-back, finishing with four assists for that opening period. Dermot Earley was a driving force as well and he finished a wonderful move to lash over from 46 metres. Further points from Ronan Walsh, Kelly and Ennis saw them establish a lead by the 16th minute.
It was nip and tuck from there to half time with Kildare going in at the interval leading by 0-8 to 0-7. That advantage quickly stretched to three after the resumption, Pádraig O’Neill and Kelly getting on the mark.
Again Louth hit back courtesy of Carroll and Rooney as they refused to be shaken off. And it was that perseverance that proved crucial in the end, keeping them in touch until that final match-winning spurt.
LOUTH: N Gallagher; D Byrne 1-1, D Finnegan, R Green; R Finnegan 0-1, A Hoey, J O’Brien; P Keenan, R Carroll 0-2; D Crilly, A McDonnell 0-2, D Maguire; C Judge 0-4(fs), JP Rooney 0-2(1f), B White 0-3(2fs).
Subs: P Smith for White (52); S Lennon 0-1 for McDonnell (69); A Reid for Crilly (70)
KILDARE: S McCormack; A Mac Lochlainn, G White, E Bolton 0-1; M Foley, B Flanagan, A Rainbow 0-1; D Flynn, D Earley 0-2; D Whyte, R Kelly 0-2, P O’Neill 0-1; K Cribbin 0-1, K Ennis 0-3(1f), R Walsh 0-2.
Subs: D Lyons for Bolton (45); J Kavanagh 0-1 for Walsh (48); R Sweeney for O’Neill (53); H Lynch for Cribbin (62)
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved