WE knew when we spotted former Limerick rugby great Gerry ‘Ginger’ McLoughlin we were in for a real battle. The soon-to-be mayor of his home city, was a member of that famous Munster side of 1978 that turned over the All Blacks, as well of course as carrying half the England pack on his back as he crossed the line for Ireland to win the Triple Crown back in 1982, writes Tommy Callaghan.
As ‘Ginger’ was taking his place in the reserved area in O’Moore Park on Saturday evening, Sligo manager Kevin Walsh joined the throngs to get first sight of his county’s next opponents this coming weekend. Cork boss, Conor Counihan and his selectors were also in situ close to former Indo Political Corr, Naas native and avid Kildare fan, Chris Glennon.
Charlie McCreevey was eagerly looking forward to the game as was Seamus Dunne and Sammy Waldron from Naas in a crowed of over 11,000 which ensured there would be no red faces for the Croke Park hierarchy after forcing the Lilies on the road again despite coming out of the drum first on Monday morning.
As the game got under way it was soon obvious that the Limerick boys were not here just for the ride as they soon made it clear they had signed up fully to the so called modern way of playing football with their number twelve, Paudie Browne reverting to a defender, posted right in front of his full back line. A tactic that for long periods seemed to completely baffle Kildare.
Limerick looked hungry, focused and on a mission as they battled for everything and thwarted the Kildare attack with numbers from the get go.
Level at three apiece after a quarter, the visitors (Limerick in this instance) opened a few points gap as Kildare seemed to be running up alleyways with little or no game plan to counteract the packed defence of the green brigade.
At the break the Treaty Boys held a two point lead, it could, and possibly should, have been more, as danger man Ian Ryan, who gave Peter Kelly a torrid time in the opening 15 minutes, should have found the net early on after breaking away from the Two Mile House man.
At the other end Emmet Bolton had a sniff of a goal chance when put through by James Kavanagh but the Eadestown man did not make quick enough contact to the loose ball and the chance evaporated.
There were many worried and anxious Kildare supporters seen at the break. Seamus Aldridge could all but manage a cup of tea and a bit of cake from his Laois friends while treasurer Martin Whyte had gone a whiter shade of pale.
Ger Donnelly was looking on the bright side pointing out that Kildare would have the stiffish breeze in their favour while Marty McEvoy, looking suitably tanned following a stint in the sun, was saying very little; not quite speechless but not far from it.
Seanie Taaffe from Raheens looked concerned; but John (Digby Bridge) Murphy was confident things would come right while the radio Newstalk boys seemed as happy and easy going in real life as they do on air.
On the resumption, the Lilies, no doubt after getting two barrels of it at the break, opened brightly with Rob Kelly and the magnificent Mick Foley raising white flags (and hopes) within a few minutes. But Limerick refused to go away and restored their three point lead with 42 minutes gone. Four more points were evenly exchanged as the clock climbed over the 50 minutes.
A few changes saw the introduction of Seanie Johnston and Padraig O’Neill as Kildare, although dominating, were still finding it extremely difficult to break down the Limerick defensive wall.
The Shannonsiders seemed to be content with their eleven points and certainly concentrated more on protecting their lead than increasing it. Always a very, very dodgy approach.
Johnny Doyle, who was having an in-and-out sort of game lifted the spirits with a fine free from some 45 metres to leave two between them and when James Kavanagh added another it was down to the minimum.
Two minutes of time added screamed the lighted board and we were still one adrift with Limerick attacking.
The ball going dead at that stage could have been curtains but Limerick elected to try and hold possession and when a determined James Kavanagh turned over the ball Kildare came down the middle like a swarm of bees after a jar of honey.
Kavanagh, Lyons, Kelly, and Bolton, one two, one two and the Eadestown man wormed his way past a defender before letting the left peg fly at the ball, he split the posts for the equaliser.
The roar of the huge Kildare contingent would have been enough to take the roof off the stand in St Conleth’s Park as Paddy Power immediately installed the Lilies at 1/2 in running, to reach round four of the qualifiers.
The full time whistle. Extra time.
What a relief.
Time to breath.
Time to gather thoughts.
Time to finally take the opportunity.
And take it they did.
Kavanagh, O’Neill, O’Flaherty (Morgan), Doyle, the Seanie lad and O’Flaherty (Eoghan) and in a ten minute period Kildare finally blew Limerick out of the water.
Six points in the clear with just one period of extra time remaining.
And that was that as the Lilies added two more, one from Naas man Eoin Doyle (a real prospect) and the final one from none other than Seanie Johnston.
A ding dong battle.
A battle that could have been lost but wasn’t.
A worry nevertheless.
Packed defences are the order of the day now. And unless Kildare can devise a plan to by-pass same it will be more of the same next weekend.
Sligo play a similar game as do possibly every side that is still standing at this stage.
Still despite the shortcoming there were some real heroes, none more so than Mick Foley at midfield.
The Athy man was superb, winning ball at each and every throw-in; dispossessing opponents time and time again; fetching ball with ease in the middle; finding time to get on the score sheet; overall a superb performance.
Emmet Bolton, not for the first time, showed his class and is at this stage is a most vital cog in the Kildare machine.
Eoin Doyle, is a young and inexperienced player at this level but his performance once again was full of maturity, full of adventure and full of promise.
James Kavanagh and team leader Johnny Doyle ran themselves ragged; Padraig O’Neill sent out a signal he is ready to resume a starting role while Seanie Johnston’s contribution was there for all to see.
Eamonn Callaghan is still not 100 per cent fit but his class is there to be seen while Gary White showed he has the ability to make an impact when required.
Not the best performance from McGeeney’s boys but I would suggest better than many are giving them credit for.
There is a need for improvement; a need for more composure; a need for more patience, a bit more awareness of those around, and a need for better shot selection .
Strength and conditioning coach, Julie Davis, is to be commended on the shape of the boys and at the end of the day without her massive contribution it could have all come undone in a home game played in Portlaoise against a Division 4 team with former Kildare All Star, Brian Lacey a major cog in the back room team.
Can the Lilies advance this weekend?.
Major improvement required but it is definitely possible.
Next up Sligo.
Not to be missed as Kildare bid to play championship football in August.
It is then and only then we will know if Kildare are genuine contenders!