NFL Division Two South: Kildare prove too strong for Laois
ALLIANZ NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE DIVISION TWO SOUTH
By Daire Walsh
Kildare recorded an emphatic 13-point victory over Laois at a sun-drenched O’Moore Park on Sunday to finish top of the Allianz National Football League Division Two South.
Despite losing out to Clare on home soil last week, Jack O’Connor’s Lilywhites are placed above both the Banner County and Cork as a consequence of their winning margin in Portlaoise.
This game was a case of the master against the apprentice, with ex-Kerry boss O’Connor in Kildare’s corner and his former player Mike Quirke in charge of their provincial rivals. Thanks in no small part to goals in either half by Luke Flynn and Kevin Flynn, it was the elder statesman from Cahersiveen who came away the happier.
Having faced the threat of relegation heading into this tie, Kildare can now look forward to a Division Two semi-final against Meath. For Laois, they will be aiming to avoid dropping down to Division Three in 2022 when they face Down in a fortnight’s time.
In desperate need of a win, Laois got off to an ideal start when Evan O’Carroll chipped over a fine score with just 14 seconds gone on the clock. However, rather than being the catalyst for a blistering opening from the O’Moore County, it was Kildare who enjoyed the better of the first-quarter.
After Jimmy Hyland was fouled close to goal, his fellow inside forward Neil Flynn comfortably dissected the uprights. His county’s star performer on their march to an inaugural All-Ireland U20 Football Championship in 2018, Hyland was causing a host of problems for the Laois defence.
He gathered an intelligent crossfield pass on six minutes, before shooting between the posts to edge the Lilies into an early lead. The versatile Kevin Feely was the next Kildare player to get his name on the scoresheet as he fired over on the turn off his right foot.
One of two late additions to their starting line-up, Brian McLoughlin moved the visitors three points clear with an excellent effort at the end of another enterprising move. Laois were struggling to curtail the rising Kildare tide, but O’Carroll was holding his own in attack.
His second point of the tie on 13 minutes ensured Laois were just two in arrears (0-4 to 0-2) at the first half water break. While Kildare had chances to add to their tally, their opponents were also guilty of some wayward shooting.
By the 20-minute mark, the home team had registered no fewer than six wides. A Hyland mark and a Fergal Conway point from play created some breathing space for Kildare, but a dogged Laois quickly responded with a brace of Gary Walsh frees.
Still, Lilywhites wing-back Kevin Flynn kicked a magnificent point on the run in advance of the maiden goal of the contest. In the 25th minute, midfielder Luke Flynn looked set to palm to the net, only for his opposite number Kieran Lillis to execute a well-timed interception.
He made no mistake off a similar attack just past the half-hour mark, with Darragh Kirwan and Feely combining to set-up the Johnstownbridge man for a simple finish. This handed Kildare a deserved 1-7 to 0-4 cushion at the interval and put them in sight of the two points on offer.
Another Neil Flynn free stretched Kildare further in front on the restart, before Walsh’s latest two-point salvo - including one from play - offered Laois some form of solace. Yet, the Lilies knew that every score could be vital in such a shortened campaign and they moved into a nine-point buffer by the 42nd minute of play.
After Neil Flynn bagged a point off a fast-paced move, his namesake cut inside off the left-wing to fire a low shot beyond the reach of Laois custodian Niall Corbet. Kildare now appeared on course for a comfortable success, but hit a speed bump towards the end of the third-quarter.
After claiming a loose defensive free from Kildare, Walsh finished powerfully to the net to bring renewed life to the Laois challenge. Eoin Lowry immediately followed with a point and the Lilies breathed a sigh of relief when Walsh missed the chance to reduce the gap to four off a scoreable placed ball strike.
This was a potential warning sign for Kildare, but they responded in a manner that would have pleased O’Connor and his selectors. Three points in succession from substitute Aaron Masterson (two) and Neil Flynn had them eight to the good (2-12 to 1-7) at the second half water break.
Walsh did bring his haul up to 1-5 with a 57th-minute free, but despite the introduction of 2003 Leinster SFC winner Ross Munnelly off the bench, this was to be their final score of the game. Hyland recorded an unanswered brace and it was then the turn of Kildare’s substitutes to show what they can bring to the table.
Shane O’Sullivan entered the fray on 48 minutes and chipped in with three points - including a mark - in the closing moments of the game. Conor Hartley also fisted over at a left-hand angle to round off a most convincing Kildare victory.
Scorers - Kildare: Neil Flynn (3 frees), Jimmy Hyland (1 free, 1 mark) 0-4 each, Kevin Flynn 1-1, Shane O’Sullivan 0-3 (1 mark), Luke Flynn 1-0, Aaron Masterson 0-2, Brian McLoughlin, Fergal Conway, Kevin Feely, Conor Hartley 0-1 each. Laois: Gary Walsh 1-5 (0-5f), Evan O’Carroll 0-2, Eoin Lowry 0-1.
KILDARE: Mark Donnellan; Mark Dempsey, Mick O’Grady, David Hyland; Kevin Flynn, Eoin Doyle, Ryan Houlihan; Luke Flynn, Brian McLoughlin; Fergal Conway, Kevin Feely, Paul Cribbin; Jimmy Hyland, Darragh Kirwan, Neil Flynn. Subs: Aaron Masterson for Feely (half-time), Shane O’Sullivan for McLoughlin (48), Alex Beirne for Kirwan (51), Paddy Brophy for N Flynn (58), Shea Ryan for Houlihan, Conor Hartley for Cribbin (both 67).
LAOIS: Niall Corbet; Robert Pigott, Mark Timmons, Gareth Dillon; Alan Farrell, Seamus Lacey, Patrick O’Sullivan; Kieran Lillis, John O’Loughlin; Eoin Lowry, Paul Kingston, Daniel O’Reilly; Brian Byrne, Gary Walsh, Evan O’Carroll. Subs: Brendan Carroll for O’Reilly (half-time), Mark Barry for Kingston (50), Eoin Buggy for P O’Sullivan (54), Finbar Crowley for Timmons, Brian Daly for Byrne (both 58), Ross Munnelly for Walsh, Sean Byrne for O’Loughlin (both 64).
Referee: Paul Faloon (Down).