THIS Leinster ‘A’ U21 Hurling Championship semi final, played at St. Conleth’s Park, Newbridge, on Thursday evening, saw Kildare come up against a Westmeath side who were fancied in many quarters, not only to win this one but to go on and with the Leinster final to boot.
And from an early stage it looked like that was the way the game would unfold as the visitors took an early lead and seemed on occasions to be just coasting along with a comfortable lead. All that changed however, in a dramatic second half when Kildare showed their real potential with some magnificent point taking and two goals that turned this game on its head.
Within eight minutes of the start the visitors had gone into a three point lead with white flags from Aaron Craig, David Lynch and Barry O’Mara and while Conor O’Hehir opened Kildare’s account after eight minutes, Westmeath went on tack on four more points and lead by 0-7 to 0-1 after just thirteen minutes.
Mark Delaney and O’Hehir (free) reduced the deficit before Westmeath went for goal from a 20m free only for Niall O’Brien’s effort to be knocked out for a 65 which O’Brien duly converted himself.
Two Conor O’Hehir points left three between them but Westmeath again upped the ante with two points from Robbie Greville, and another from midfielder Aonghus Clarke to leave six between them and while Conor O’Hehir converted another free it was Westmeath who had the final score of the half, a Niall O’Brien 65 to leave the half time score reading Westmeath 0-12 Kildare 0-6.
O’Brien added another on the resumption as Kildare looked to be heading for a quick exit from this competition. Little did we know, however, what was to unfold.
Gerry Keegan, who had a quiet opening half, got his name on the score sheet after 36 minutes, quickly followed by the accurate O’Hehir finding the range once again. Coming up to the mid way point in the half Aonghus Clarke and Connor Kenny exchanged points to leave the score reading Westmeath 0-14 Kildare 0-9.
Cormac Gallagher in the Kildare goal denied Joey Boyle before O’Hehir converted another placed ball. Gerry Keegan showed a great level of skill, however his effort fell short..
With just over ten minutes remaining, Ardclough’s Martin Fitzgerald sent in a high ball, the sliothar broke loose and first to react was Sean Gainey, and the Naas man made no mistake from close range, From the puck out Kildare came storming back with Conor Kenny hit a beauty to level up matters as Kildare suddenly seemed to be in command all over the field.
Kenny had Kildare in front for the first time as Westmeath suddenly realised they had a game on their hands and when Martin Fitzgerald hit two 65s perfectly between the sticks The Lilies tails were up big time.
Gerry Keegan, who was now winning everything from the no. 11 spot, extended the lead to four (Kildare having scored 1-7 without reply) before Niall O’Brien converted a 65 for Westmeath’s only third score of the second half, as time was ticking away.
Three minutes remaining and Westmeath needed a goal and they came ever so close to achieving it when Niall O’Brien gained possession inside the 20m line and let fly but Kildare keeper Gallagher made a brilliant block to deny him and from the resultant clearance Sean Gainey made a brilliant catch at the opposite end of the field, trying to load the sliother broke loose and there was Conor O’Hehir to flick the ball into the Westmeath net to make it 2-15 to 0-15.
An incredible turn around but one that Kildare fully deserved, and while few could have foreseen it when they were trailing by seven points, nevertheless they never gave up the fight and fully deserve their place in the Leinster final and a title with Meath.
Kildare had some top class displays, none more so than Conor O’Hehir when things were not going right he kept his cool and converted frees as they came along; Mick Purcell did well as did Kevin Whelan, Martin Fitzgerald had an excellent last 20 as did Conor Kenny and Gerry Keegan and Sean Gainey. Overall a great come back and a great boost to hurling in the county.
Kildare, Conor O’Hehir 1-6 (5 frees), Conor Kenny 0-4, Sean Gainey 1-0, Gerry Keegan 0-2, Martin Fitzgerald 0-2 (2, 65s), Mark Delaney 0-1.
Westmeath, Niall O’Brien 0-7 (3 frees, 3, 65s), Robbie Greville 0-2, Aonghus Clarke 0-2, David Lynch 0-1, Aaron Craig 0-1, Barry O’Mara 0-1, Neal Kirby 0-1.
Cormac Gallagher (Naas); Ryan McGrath (Clane), Mark Carter (Naas), Darach MacDonnadha (Naas); Kevin Whelan (Naas), Mick Purcell cpt (Naas), Ross Kelly (Naas); Martin Fitzgerald (Ardclough), Sean Gainey (Naas); Declan Flaherty (Coill Dubh), Conor Kenny (Celbridge), Mark Delaney (Coill Dubh); Conor O’Hehir (Naas), Gerry Keegan (Celbridge), Ryan Casey (Coill Dubh). Subs: Shane O’Flynn (Celbridge) for Ryan Casey (29 minute).
Shane McGovern; Paul Fennell, Alan McGrath, Tommy Gallagher; Stephen Boylan, David Fennell, Niall O’Brien; David Lynch, Aonghus Clarke; Cormac Boyle cpt., Aaron Craig, Neal Kirby; Robbie Greville, Tommy Doyle, Barry O’Mara. Subs: Glen Flynn for Stephen Boylan (half time); Joey Boyle for Aaron Craig (39 minute); Cathal Scally for Barry O’Mara (39 minute);
Kevin Brady, Louth.