Kildare 2-11 Meath 0-14
GAA Football All-Ireland Qualifiers Round 3
Meath 0-14 Kildare 2-11
Kildare further enhanced their formidable reputation with a three-point defeat of Meath in a tense and exciting game at Páirc Tailteann, Navan on Saturday night.
Dubbed a ‘second half team’ for finishing strongly in each of their Championship games this year, Kieran McGeeney’s side once again lived up to that moniker by scoring 1-2 without reply in a match-winning four-minute spell in the final stages of the game.
Cian Ward had kicked his eighth point of the evening to level the game at 0-12 to 1-9 as the game entered the final quarter, but Kildare proved once again that their fitness is unparalleled by blowing their opponents apart in the final five minutes.
Substitute Ronan Sweeney kicked their first point in 13 minutes with less than six minutes to play before Emmet Bolton raided from wing-back to add another point and increase the gap to two.
Then the Lilywhites hit the after-burners and left Meath trailing in their wake, as Bolton, who finished with 1-2 from play, fisted the ball to the back of the net after James Kavanagh and Sweeney had combined to set up their second goal.
Although Meath hit the final two points of the game, a comeback never really looked likely, as Kildare defended doggedly to secure a place in Round 4 of the Qualifiers, where they will play the losers of Sunday’s Connacht final.
Meath opened the scoring in the second minute, Ward drilling over a brilliantly-struck free, the Wolfe Tones man setting the tone for a solid first-half performance.
Kildare have developed a reputation as slow starters, but they made a mockery of that tag in the fourth minute when they grabbed an early goal. The Lilywhites fed a long ball into danger man Tomás O’Connor, who won clean ball and was dragged back by Kevin Reilly as he was about to pull the trigger. John Doyle, who suffered a worrying knock minutes earlier, beat Brendan Murphy from 11 metres, scoring his second penalty in seven days.
Rather than feel sorry for themselves, Meath took the game immediately to their opponents, beating the Lilywhites’ defensive screen by playing direct ball into their full-forward line. Ward, Seamus Kenny and Stephen Bray all hit the target from play to ease the Royals back into the lead.
Kildare’s only score in the first 16 minutes was Doyle’s penalty until Eamonn Callaghan rectified that and Pádraig O’Neill and Morgan O’Callaghan also got in on the act.
Meath’s goal machine Ward – he scored four goals in Round 1 against Louth – was then denied a fifth goal in this year's Championship when he was played through, but his shot was superbly blocked by Daryl Flynn. Ward sent the resultant ’45 straight over the bar.
Kavanagh, who had been introduced as a first-half sub, scored a sublime point from play and Doyle knocked over another free to give Kildare a deserved 1-6 to 0-7 half-time lead.
But Meath were far from overwhelmed and Ward had a brilliant goal chance saved by Kildare goalkeeper Shane Connolly five minutes after the restart, although he did put over a ’45 to add to an earlier free to cut the deficit back to a single point.
The Royals had the momentum and when Shane O’Rourke and Seamus Kenny found their range from play, Seamus McEnaney’s side were level at 0-12 to 1-9 with 22 minutes left.
It was high-stakes stuff and it told as tension crept into the game and efforts from Bolton and Ward’s eighth were all that either side registered over the next 16 minutes.
Then came Bolton’s second point, the wing-back sending over another score from play before Sweeney gave the visitors some breathing space.
When Bolton capped a fine display with the killer goal three minutes from time, the game was over and with it Meath’s hopes went. Kavanagh did the foraging in attack and fed Sweeney, who found Bolton and his fisted effort sailed past Murphy in the Royals’ goal.
Meath went in search of a goal, but Brian Farrell's late free did little other than enhance the scoreline from their point of view, as Kildare marched on to the final round of the Qualifiers, their hopes of mounting yet another assault on the latter stages of the All-Ireland Championship growing all the time.
Meath Scorers: C Ward 0-9 (0-5f, 0-2 ‘45), S Kenny 0-1, S Bray 0-1, S O’Rourke 0-1, S Kenny 0-1, B Farrell 0-1 (0-1f).
Kildare Scorers: J Doyle 1-2 (1-0 pen, 0-2f), E Callaghan 0-1, P O’Neill 0-1, F Dowling 0-1, J Kavanagh 0-1, H McGrillen 0-1, E Bolton 1-2, R Sweeney 0-1, M O’Flaherty 0-1.
Meath: B Murphy; G O’Brien, K Reilly, C O’Connor; C Lenehan, S McAnarney, M Burke; S O’Rourke, B Meade; P Gilsenan, J Sheridan, S Kenny; S Bray, G Reilly, C Ward. Subs: M Ward for Meade (23), B Farrell for Lenehan (32), J Queeney for G Reilly (46), P O’Rourke for M Ward (57), A Moyles for Queeney (64)
Kildare: S Connolly; A MacLochiann, M Foley, H McGrillen; G White, M O'Flaherty, E Bolton; J Doyle, D Flynn; P O'Neill, E O'Flaherty, E Callaghan; R Kelly, T O'Connor, F Dowling. Subs: J Kavanagh for R Kelly (24), C Brophy for F Dowling (49), R Sweeney for E O’Flaherty (55), O Lyons for E Bolton (68).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)