Dublin 0-14 Kildare 0-12
By Kevin Egan at Croke Park
It wasn’t the swashbuckling, all-out attack football of the previous clash between Louth and Offaly, but Dublin and Kildare still delivered a tense, dramatic Leinster semi-final that kept supporters from both sides glued to their seats right up until the last moment.
It ended with Dublin eventually falling, rather than surging, across the line to keep their dreams of a 13th consecutive Delaney Cup very much alive.
Having gradually found their form over the course of the Allianz League, the selection of Stephen Cluxton in goal further hinted at Dublin gradually putting more pieces together in their bid to get back to the All-Ireland final.
Instead they produced a performance that will leave Dessie Farrell and his selectors with more questions than answers, as they were greatly unsettled by Kildare’s industry and collective defensive effort.
That the Lilywhites didn’t quite get there was largely due to scoring just one point after Jack Robinson’s free put them three in front after 47 minutes. Dublin themselves never scored freely, but they did enough to keep things going, eventually prevailing thanks to late points from substitutes Cormac Costello and Lorcan O’Dell.
In the first half, it was very simple to diagnose what was happening. Kildare were wired for the battle right from the off, while it was much harder to detect the same sense of urgency and fire in Dublin.
Darragh Kirwan kicked the opening score, Paddy Woodgate nailed some incredible frees, and Ben McCormack was a real livewire, playing a role in every phase and in every aspect of the contest. It was defensively however, where Kildare were at their best. Mick O’Grady nullified Con O’Callaghan’s threat, while the half-back line of Kevin Flynn, Shea Ryan and David Hyland focused on their core job of covering off space and concentrating on their man marking duties, to great effect.
When Paul Mannion fired over from distance after 24 minutes to make it 0-3 apiece, the Kilmacud Crokes man was the only man on the scoresheet, and while some of that was down to Kildare pressure, sloppiness on the Dublin side was a factor too. Bryan Fenton was a shadow of himself, pushing one very straightforward chance wide of the target, while Ciarán Kilkenny, James McCarthy and Lee Gannon all had shots either blocked, or dropped short.
A run of three Kildare points on the spin, the pick of which was a Ben McCormack effort after collective defending smothered what appeared to be a Dublin goal chance, and by half-time, at 0-8 to 0-6 in front, supporters of the beleaguered Lilies were starting to believe.
Five minutes into the second half, when McCormack and Woodgate (from a 45) doubled their advantage, hope was morphing into giddy optimism.
Even when Seán Bugler and Colm Basquel cancelled out those scores, they weren’t ‘trademark’ Dublin points, patiently engineered and crafted, and finished from high-percentage spots. Instead they were speculative efforts, Bugler from distance and Basquel from the sideline, and there were plenty more shots like them that never came close to traversing Mark Donnellan’s crossbar.
It was only in the final quarter that shades of Dublin’s traditional style started to surface. Clever running lines from Jack McCaffrey and Ciarán Kilkenny opened up the space for Lee Gannon to clip the ball over from 30 metres out, Con O’Callaghan kicked a nice score on the turn, and while Cian Murphy drew the sides level from a 50 metre kick that sailed over with all 15 Kildare players in between the goal and the Thomas Davis man, by now it felt that Dublin were turning the screw and Kildare had lost their attacking shape.
Neil Flynn broke their scoring drought with a wonderful kick off the right to edge them back in front, but they needed to hold that lead or build on it to make Dublin sweat, and instead Jack McCaffrey fired over a leveller with seven minutes to play.
What followed was a tense finale, and the big swing moment was when Daniel Flynn was hoisted in the air and Dublin picked up the pieces, charged down the field, and won a free which Cormac Costello converted. With Kildare pressing for an equaliser, Lorcan O’Dell struck on the break for the final score, and the contest was settled – even if questions about Dublin’s credentials as contenders for the ultimate prize still remain.
Scorers for Dublin: Paul Mannion 0-3, Con O’Callaghan 0-2 (0-1f), Ciarán Kilkenny 0-1, Ross McGarry 0-1, Seán Bugler 0-1, Lee Gannon 0-1, Cian Murphy 0-1, Colm Basquel 0-1, Jack McCaffrey 0-1, Cormac Costello 0-1f, Lorcan O’Dell 0-1.
Scorers for Kildare: Paddy Woodgate 0-4 (0-2f, 0-1 45), Jack Robinson 0-3f, Darragh Kirwan 0-2, Ben McCormack 0-2, Neil Flynn 0-1.
Dublin: Stephen Cluxton; Daire Newcombe, David Byrne, Lee Gannon; John Small, Cian Murphy, Tom Lahiff; Brian Fenton, James McCarthy; Ross McGarry, Seán Bugler, Ciarán Kilkenny; Paul Mannion, Con O’Callaghan, Colm Basquel.
Subs: Cormac Costello for McGarry (half-time), Jack McCaffrey for Lahiff (half-time), Lorcan O’Dell for Basquel (50), Paddy Small for Mannion (58), Dean Rock for Bugler (65).
Kildare: Mark Donnellan; Eoin Doyle, Mick O’Grady, Paddy McDermott; David Hyland, Kevin Flynn, Shea Ryan; Kevin O’Callaghan, Aaron Masterson; Alex Beirne, Ben McCormack, Jack Sargent; Paddy Woodgate, Darragh Kirwan, Jack Robinson.
Subs: Paul Cribbin for Beirne (46), Neil Flynn for Robinson (48), Daniel Flynn for Kirwan (56), Kevin Feely for Masterson (63), Jimmy Hyland for McCormack (69).
Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford).