NFL Division 2 Semi-Final: Kildare get over the line against Meath
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE DIVISION TWO PROMOTION PLAY-OFF
By Daire Walsh
Kildare held off a late surge from Meath at St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge on Sunday afternoon to secure a spot in Division One of the National Football League.
An early goal from Jimmy Hyland and five points courtesy of his replacement Brian McLoughlin proved pivotal for the Lilywhites in what was an often ill-tempered affair. In addition to three red cards, a host of yellow cards were dished out by referee Barry Cassidy and there was also an allegation of spitting that will doubtless dominate headlines over the next few days.
Trailing by nine points on the hour mark, the Royals looked set to finish their 2021 league campaign on a whimper. Kildare's Luke Flynn had been sent-off by this point, however, and Andy McEntee’s charges eventually made their numerical advantage count to some degree.
Meath substitute Brian Conlon and Conor McGill were also given their marching orders at the end of a mass brawl, but as it was deep into stoppage-time, it didn't have any major effect on the game.
Corner-forward Jordan Morris offered the biggest threat for the visitors, though the likes of Michael Newman, Joey Wallace and Eamon Wallace did make an impact off the bench - the Royals subs coming away with a combined tally of 0-4.
Nonetheless this will be a disappointment for Meath, who were hoping to make an automatic return to the top-flight. They recorded a massive win over Kildare at Croke Park in last year’s Leinster Senior Football Championship, but the Lilies turned the tables on them and will enter the provincial series with renewed confidence as a result.
Former League of Ireland centre-half Kevin Feely got the hosts up and running with a point from a mark, before Hyland rattled the Meath net on six minutes. Unfortunately, this was the latter's final act of the game as he was subsequently withdrawn through injury.
Yet, McLoughlin was a more than able deputy and knocked over a brace of points in response to a Morris single. Cathal Hickey and Bryan McMahon reduced the gap to two with back-to-back efforts, but that was to be their lot for the opening period.
Kildare were the sharper of the two teams after the first water break, with Neil Flynn's influence on the game becoming more pronounced. After converting a free, the Maynooth man chipped over a point from play to restore the Lilywhites’ four-point cushion.
Brian McLoughlin continued his impressive introduction with a 26th-minute score and he was later joined on the scoresheet by another substitute. Naas’ Alex Beirne was brought on for Paul Cribbin in the first-quarter as Kildare were having no luck on the injury front.
He did add his own energy to the proceedings and split the uprights just past the half-hour mark to give the home team a 1-7 to 0-4 interval buffer.
Although the game wasn’t necessarily beyond Meath, it was going to take a much-improved display to get themselves into contention. Ethan Devine and Cillian O’Sullivan did find the target either side of a McLoughlin free on the restart, before Kildare took over for the rest of the third-quarter.
Prior to Luke Flynn’s dismissal, Feely, Darragh Kirwan and Neil Flynn (free) had created further daylight and left the Royals with a mountain to scale. Even when they were reduced to 14 men, Kildare seemed determined to earn a spot in Division One with considerable style.
Kirwan and McLoughlin - both of whom will be pushing hard for a championship starting place - extended the gap to 10 with only 15 minutes of normal time remaining. Their counterparts Eamon Wallace and Newman did interrupt this scoring blitz with points of their own, but when Shea Ryan became the latest Kildare reserve to find the range, it looked like a foregone conclusion.
However, this was the cue for Meath to finally enjoy a dominant spell in the game. In the space of eight minutes, Hickey, Joe Wallace and Morris (two) raised white flags to leave just five points between the sides.
Despite finishing the game with 13 players, Meath were close to at least forcing the game into extra-time. Newman and Morris knocked over frees, while O’Sullivan and Darragh Campion forced fine saves out of Kildare netminder Mark Donnellan.
The Lilywhites held out in the end, though, and can now look forward to Division One football after a three-year absence.
Scorers - Kildare: Brian McLoughlin 0-5 (3f), Neil Flynn 0-3 (1f), Jimmy Hyland 1-0, Kevin Feely (1 mark), Darragh Kirwan 0-2 each, Alex Beirne, Shea Ryan 0-1 each. Meath: Jordan Morris 0-4 (2f), Michael Newman (2f), Cathal Hickey 0-2 each, Fionn Reilly, Ethan Devine, Bryan McMahon, Cillian O’Sullivan, Joey Wallace, Eamon Wallace 0-1 each.
KILDARE: Mark Donnellan; Mark Dempsey, Mick O’Grady, Eoin Doyle; Kevin Flynn, David Hyland, Ryan Houlihan; Luke Flynn, Aaron Masterson; Fergal Conway, Neil Flynn, Paul Cribbin; Jimmy Hyland, Kevin Feely, Darragh Kirwan. Subs: Brian McLoughlin for Hyland (8), Alex Beirne for Cribbin (16), Shane O’Sullivan for Feely (41), Conor Hartley for Flynn, Shea Ryan for Conway (both 55), Darragh Malone for Kirwan (71).
MEATH: Andy Colgan; Seamus Lavin, Conor McGill, Cathal Hickey; Donal Keogan, Shane McEntee, Fionn Reilly; Bryan Menton, Ethan Devine; Padraic Harnan, Bryan McMahon, Matthew Costello; Jordan Morris, Thomas O’Reilly, Cillian O’Sullivan. Subs: Brian Conlon for Menton (31), Joey Wallace for O’Reilly (half-time), Eamon Wallace for Costello (38), Ronan Ryan for Lavin, Darragh Campion for Harnan, Michael Newman for McMahon (all 54), Jason Scully for Keogan (55).
Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry).