There was a huge cheer when Dermot Earley made his way on to St. Conleith’s Park, Newbridge for the first time in over two years, two minutes from the end of this entertaining game.
Seamus Mullan was in St. Conleith’s Park
Photographs: Adrian Melia
But it was nothing to the roar that went up minutes later when Johnny Doyle offloaded the ball to him in front of goal and he lofted over the final score of the game, the huge crowd in raptures not just at this five point win but also at the return of the hugely popular Earley after a career threatening cruciate ligament injury.
However, there were no cheers from the Derry camp, nor the small band of fans who’d endured a frustrating 70 minutes of a game Derry might have won had luck been on their side in the closing minutes.
Indeed Derry manager John Brennan cut a frustrated figure minutes after the final whistle. He’d watched his side put themselves in a position to get something from this game after trailing 0-08 to 0-06 at half time, then 1-11 to 1-07 midway through the second half before Cailean O’Boyle drove a low shot to the net on 60 minutes to leave just one between the sides.
Three minutes later Paddy Bradley worked himself into a scoring position from the right but he was denied by a superb block tackle.
Unfortunately for Derry the ball was moved forward at pace, the ‘Lily Whites’ allowed far too much room as the move progressed and keeper Barry Gillis had no chance as Tomas O’Connor squared the ball to the unmarked Alan Smith who drilled into the net.
However Derry did not give up and a minute from the end of normal time it looked as if they might get a chance to make the closing minutes uncomfortable for the home side.
Cailean O’Boyle was clearly held as he tried to claim the ball in the goalmouth but Fermanagh referee Martin Higgins ignored the Oak Leaf pleas for a penalty and again Kildare countered with Early grabbing the final score of the game.
The Derry manager was rightly perplexed at the refusal to award the spot-kick, especially when the referee adjudged that Tomas O’Connor had been fouled in the goalmouth in the 52nd minute with the Lily Whites four points ahead.
There was a tussle for possession but the ball had broken free and Mark Craig was close to the 45m line when the referee blew his whistle and then signalled a penalty that Doyle finished with aplomb.
Yet Derry came back with gusto as O’Boyle slipped the ball to Sean Leo McGoldrick on the edge of the square and he drove it low past Shane Connolly to give Derry a glimmer of hope.
Derry had lacked penetration in the first half, the midfield dominance of P. J. McCloskey and Michael Friel, and the superb ball carrying of Sean Leo McGoldrick, not represented on the scoreboard despite three early points from Paddy Bradley.
Brennan put it bluntly. “I told the players at half time that if we came away from this game beaten it would be a case of us losing it rather than Kildare winning it,” he claimed, “I stand by those comment.”
However his frustration was centred for the most part on the penalty that was given and the one that wasn’t!
“The turning point was the penalty that Kildare got, for whatever reason. He did not give the players a reason for his decision. Our full-back and their full-forward were tussling for the ball but Mark Craig came away with the ball, well out the pitch, about 10 or 15 metres from the incident. The ball out the pitch. Then he blew the whistle for the penalty.
“We had that referee make a wrong decision in the McKenna Cup final. And he’s down here today punishing us again.
“We thought at the end Cailean O’Boyle should have had a penalty when there were four points in the game. The referee for his own reasons did not give it. When he gives a penalty at one end, then does not give a penalty at the other end it is a six point turnaround. I can’t legislate for that. They were two big turning points.”
It was suggested that Derry did not get the ball forward quickly in the first half to the inside forwards, that there was far too much lateral play. Time and again Derry took too long to get the ball inside, too often allowing Kildare to funnel players back to give additional cover to the defence.
“It wasn’t planned. I can assure you of that. It is an ongoing problem. In the first half we won over 60% of possession in the middle of the field but they did not do as they were told to.
“We knew that our full forward line had the measure of their full back line and we showed that in the second half even if some of the ball inside may not have been the best but we should not have gone in two points down at half time. We should have been in front by maybe two or three points. That’s for sure.
“We won the ball at midfield and instead of taking the direct route we took the lateral route and that gave them time to get players back in defence in numbers. I agree we should have gone in ahead at half time.”
Morgan O’Flaherty scored three points as Kildare took a 0-08 to 0-06 lead to the break but Derry would not have been flattered with a similar advantage had they gave their forwards quicker and sharper use of the ball.
Twice in the third quarter Johnny Doyle scored two spectacular points from distance after Conleith Gilligan had pointed a free for 0-08 to 0-07 two minutes into the second half.
Even though Derry had genuine grievances over some of the refereeing decisions, the reality was that Kildare were more direct and more clinical in their finishing and that proved defining at the final whistle.
Kildare scorers: Johnny Doyle 1-03, 1-00 pen, Eoghan O’Flaherty 0-04, 0-02 frees, James Kavanagh 0-02, Morgan O’Flaherty, Mikey Conway, Padraig O’Neill and Dermot Earley 0-01
Derry scorers: Conleith Gilligan 0-04, 0-02 frees, Paddy Bradley 0-03, 0-01 free, Sean Leo McGoldrick and Cailean O Boyle 1-00 each and Enda Lynn 0-01
Kildare: Shane Connolly; Peter Kelly, Hugh McGrillen, Ollie Lyons; Emmet Bolton, Morgan O’Flaherty, Michael Foley; Daryl Flynn, John Doyle; James Kavanagh, Mikey Conway, Padraig O’Neill; Eamon Callaghan, Tomas O’Connor, Eoghan O’Flaherty. (Subs) Alan Smith for M Conway, 55 mins; Ronan Sweeney for D Flynn, 64 mins; Dermot Earley for T O’Connor 68 mins, Karl Ennis for Eamon Callaghan, 71 mins.
Derry: Barry Gillis; Brian McCallion, Chrissy McKaigue, Aidan McAlynn; Mark Craig, Chrlie Kielt, Sean Leo McGoldrick; Michael Friel, P.J. McCloskey; Neil Forrester, Blaine Gormley, Barry McGoildrick; Conleith Gilligan, Paddy Bradley, Enda Lynn. (Subs) Cailean O’Boyle for N Forrester, 43 mins; Emmett McGuckin for E Lynn 60 mins; Eugene Scullion for C Kielt, 68 mins
Referee: Martin Higgins (Fermanagh)