All Ireland SFC Qualifier: Kildare edge out Longford
All Ireland SFC Round 2 Qualifier
KILDARE 1-16 LONGFORD 1-13
By Kevin Egan at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park
Longford’s bid to win at least one qualifier tie for the 10th year in succession fell short in dramatic fashion at their home venue of Glennon Brothers Pearse Park.
Kevin Feely and Chris Healy made vital contributions off the Kildare bench to snatch victory in a game where the sides were level 10 times in total, with Kildare taking their first lead of the game in the 69th minute.
Supporters were treated to a fantastic battle in glorious sunshine as these two Leinster counties gave a further reminder that while Dublin might be a cut above the rest of their rivals in the eastern province, games between the chasing pack tend to be hugely enjoyable and very closely fought affairs.
Certainly the idea that Longford might carry a hangover from their experience at the hands of Dublin in Croke Park in the Leinster semi-final was quickly blown out of the water as Robbie Smyth got them out to an early lead with two fine points, one from a free and the second sweetly-struck over with his left foot from a tight angle in the shadow of the terrace.
A black card for Kildare’s Niall Kelly added to the pressure on the Lilywhites, but they too settled into the game promptly, with two Neil Flynn points drawing them level. For most of the first half the sides traded scores in this fashion, usually following the pattern of Longford taking the lead and Kildare replying, but the style of the two approaches was very different. Longford found holes along the centre of the Kildare defence time and again over the course of the game and ran right through the middle for the majority of their scores, and they also rattled the Kildare crossbar on two separate occasions.
After James Murray blocked down Robbie Smyth, Liam Connerton was able to pick up a rebound and slam it against the town end crossbar after 22 minutes, while Connerton turned provider 10 minutes later when he played in Donal McElligott. The Longford captain also left some paint on the ball but at least saw it fly over the crossbar afterwards.
Kildare’s play was much more intricate and patient, with a series of handpasses needed to probe openings, but some superb kicks from Paddy Brophy from tough positions, not to mention points from Tommy Moolick and Daniel Flynn in heavy traffic, kept them right in touch, with just a point between the sides – 0-9 to 0-8 – at the interval.
The same pattern continued after half time, but Kildare’s tackling was improved and Longford’s scoring rate dried up. Kildare struggled to add points at the same rate as well, as seven second half wides - including five in the space of six scoring attempts - meant that they couldn’t find a way to get their noses in front.
When they did, through an Eoin Doyle punched score in the 69th minute, they kickstarted a hugely dramatic climax that proved the value of a deep panel. While Longford manager Denis Connerton made just one (enforced) substitution before the last minute of normal time, Cian O’Neill was happy to trust his reserves and his faith was rewarded.
Kevin Feely in particular, ruled out of the starting team with a calf injury sustained in their previous round win over Derry, proved to be the match winner as he fired over a soaring kick from the stand side of the ground to double the lead, and then hoovered up a vital breaking ball around his own 20m line that set in train the game’s decisive attack.
Fifteen seconds later, Daniel Flynn broke a tackle and played the ball into Chris Healy, who’s tireless run was rewarded with a simple finish.
That put Kildare five points up in the seventh minute of added time, six minutes having been announced as the minimum amount of stoppage time, but there was still more drama as Robbie Smyth fired a low shot through a crowded goalmouth to keep the tie alive.
Joe McQuillan obliged by allowing enough time for one more attack, but it was Kildare who won possession and worked the ball to Paul Cribbin, who brought down the curtain on a pulsating encounter with a close range punched score.
Scorers for Kildare: Neil Flynn 0-5 (3fs), Chris Healy 1-0, Paddy Brophy, Tommy Moolick, Paul Cribbin 0-2 each, Daniel Flynn, Eoin Doyle, David Hyland, Fergal Conway, Kevin Feely 0-1 each.
Scorers for Longford: Robbie Smyth 1-5 (4fs), Darren Gallagher 0-2, David McGivney (f), Seán McCormack, Liam Connerton, Conor Berry, Donal McElligott, Paddy Collum (’45) 0-1 each.
KILDARE: Mark Donnellan; Peter Kelly, David Hyland, Mick O’Grady; James Murray, Eoin Doyle, Kevin Flynn; Tommy Moolick, Fergal Conway; Keith Cribbin, Paul Cribbin, Paddy Brophy; Niall Kelly, Daniel Flynn, Neil Flynn.
Subs: Eanna O’Connor for Kelly (4, black card), David Slattery for Keith Cribbin (44), Johnny Byrne for Murray (50), Chris Healy for Moolick (52), Cathal McNally for O’Connor (56), Kevin Feely for Fergal Conway (68, black card).
LONGFORD: Paddy Collum; Patrick Fox, Padraig McCormack, Diarmuid Masterson; Michael Quinn, Donal McElligott, Barry McKeon; Darren Gallagher, Conor Berry; David McGivney, Dessie Reynolds, Daniel Mimnagh; Robbie Smyth, Seán McCormack, Liam Connerton.
Subs: Barry Gilleran for P McCormack (53, black card), Andrew Farrell for Berry (69), Darren Quinn for Mimnagh (70), Peter Foy for McKeon (70+6), Shane Kenny for McGivney (70+7), Mark Nally for Gallagher (70+8).
REFEREE: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).