THE tension was palpable. The atmosphere was mighty. The ability to find space was practically impossible. It was rough and tumble stuff right from the start ... and that was only at the pre-match gathering in O’Flaherty’s.
Kildare fans congregated in big numbers in the popular Navan watering hole, many availing of the complimentary (free is not a word in any decent hack’s vocabulary) burger and bottle of lager on offer.
Familiar match day faces everywhere with the Devines, the Murrays and the Collins leading the charge from Newbridge; Mahonys of Clane were sporting their colours, the Cullens and Butlers were spotted from Ardclough (Olive taking full advantage of the ‘burger and bottle’ offer); the Raheens crew were there in big numbers (no wrong turns this time) while the Aspells from Kilcullen were seen heading into the ground in good time as were the Kinahans from Athy, the Higgins from Naas while Camillus Walsh from Sallins (or should that be Sarsfields, or Clongorey maybe, no matter there’s only one) made it on time from his summer hideaway in West Cork!
Two words on most people’s lips.
Any word on Flynner; any word on Jimmers, how bad is Hughie Lynch, is Johnny the captain okay?
And the other frequently asked question centred on how Joe McQuillan landed the referee’s gig for this one, he having been on umpire duty for last season’s Kildare versus Down debacle.
Questions, questions but few answers but we did not have to wait too long before the answers were before our eyes.
Flynner was in at midfield for the unfortunate Hugh Lynch while the Eadestown wing back (Emmet Bolton) came safely through from his recent hamstring troubles; Johnny D was looking fine while Jimmers was somewhat surprisingly starting on the bench.
The Royals made a couple of changes from what Banty announced in midweek, out went Paddy O’Rourke and Eoin Reilly; in came Michael Burke and Graham Reilly.
Match official McQuillan looked very relaxed as a daughter of former Meath great Tommy Dowd sang Amhran na Bhfiann. Good God I say to myself that’s all we want another Dowd in the Meath line-up!
Up in the ‘Ard Chomhairle’ section of the stand, a well know official (Steward 36) was as diligent as ever as he looked for ID from no less a man than Leinster Council Chairman, Martin Skelly.
We should not be surprised as in times gone by the same steward once asked the one and only Sean Boylan had he a press pass before he let him through to the commentary area!
There’s always one isn’t there.
Away we go with the Lilies playing with a strong wind but early worries surface as Johnny Doyle is down holding his ankle after some 40 seconds as the home side open with a Cian Ward point.
Within a minute and Tomas (O’Connor) has the Meath defence in a tangle, fetching above Kevin Reilly, fouled and the match official suddenly endeared himself to all Kildare fans pointing to the spot.
Up steps the Allenwood man.
Bang. Goal. Brilliant start.
Royals soon back on level terms.
Kildare half back line in early trouble; the Eadestown man in particular seems somewhat off the pace as the home brigade pick up a lot of breaking ball around the middle.
The Leper gets the Lilies opening score from play as the sides are deadlocked.
Flynner makes the first of a string of brilliant blocks before Padraig O’Neill has Geezer’s boys in front for the first time, a lead they were never to lose for the rest of the evening despite coming under more pressure than the Ardclough contingent (well Mrs. Cullen in particular) had in securing that early evening burger!
Morgan O gets forward to raise a white flag before Michael Foley shows he has brought his good form into this one with a brilliant block on a goal bound shot with Cian Ward converting the resulting ‘45’.
Young Fionn got on the end of a lovely move to get his first of the evening.
Jimmers is introduced and makes an immediate impact with a peach of a point that many others would not even have dreamt about and when Tomas was fouled again up stepped the team captain to punish Meath, giving the shortgrass boys a two point interval lead.
Would it be enough against the wind?
Seamus Aldridge had his doubts as did a few more of us to be perfectly honest.
Off we go again with Flanno taking over from an out-of-sorts Chalky.
Hugh McGrillen comes forward with a lovely delicate point that would not be out of place from a recognised corner forward.
Tension is mounting as the hits get more intense and tempers reach boiling point.
Shane Connolly makes a brilliant stop from Cian Ward as the Larries man shows just why he has command of the number one shirt.
Atmosphere is brilliant as fans from both sides get behind their favourites.
Doyle and big Shane O’Rourke exchange scores before Seamus Kenny has the sides ‘all aboard’ on 50 minutes or so.
Now the fat was really in the fire.
Jimmers sets up Paudie for goal but ‘keeper Murphy up to it. Emmet The Bolt, now looking more like himself gets forward to raise a white flag but Cian Ward again levels up from a placed ball.
The atmosphere in O’Flaherty’s fades into insignificance as the noise levels hit new heights.
Jimmers threads a beautiful ball through to Emmet who bolts another one over.
Roli announces his arrival plucking one out of the darkened skyline and follows up with a great point.
Lilies two clear.
The heart is pounding quicker and quicker.
And then the nail in the Meath coffin.
A mighty move involving five pair of hands starting with Conor Brophy winning a ‘dirty’ ball and ends with Big Tomas spotting Bolton on the far side, off-loads and the Eadestown man finds the net.
The crowd are on their feet.
Lilies light up a dark and dull July evening.
Meath are on the floor but refuse to throw in the towel (as usual).
Back they come.
Points from Kenny and Farrell leave just a goal between them.
Time is running out.
Andrew Mac gathers and boots to safety only for Meath to have one last gasp effort but it was not to be and Kildare send Banty’s boys packing and end their season of 2011.
The excitement. The tension. The relief.
Time for group hugs.
Geezer (The Special One) allows himself a smile of satisfaction although he had just seen his friend Paul Grimley’s charges losing out inflicting the same pain to another close colleague the previous week in Justin McNulty.
The Lilies march on.
A date with Ulster beaten finalists Derry next on agenda this Saturday.
The Special One’s mam (now I understand an avid Lily supporter) seeks out her son and congratulates him with an embrace and a few whispered words.
The perfect dessert to a wonderful evening!
And so the ship is still afloat.
The Lilies are coming to full bloom.
One more win and ... oh, the thought of it is nearly too much to contemplate.
But we’re edging ever so close.
Fogra: A little bird tells me of one, well known Newbridge couple, avid supporters of the Lilies, had some difficulty in locating their car after the game. Even seeking assistance from the local gardai and by all accounts were not overly impressed when their pleas fell on deaf hours. All’s well that ends well, however, when after an hour of frantic searching the vehicle was found. Yes you guessed it, in exactly the same spot that it had been parked up a couple of hours earlier. That’s what’s knows as ‘The Lilies Affect.’ Don’t worry Sean and Shiela, as ever, my lips are sealed!
Fogra 2: Rumours that my good friend and colleague Ruth is in need of some counselling following this latest Meath set-back are very much wide of the mark. Ruth, I’m delighted to say, has become accustomed by now to the Lilies getting the better of the Royals in championship fare.
And long may it continue.
Fogra 3: Tom Cross is running a bus to the Derry game. Inquiries to 086-2568827.