Tensions rise near the end of last week's Kilare v Cork clash at Semple Stadium. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Semple Stadium, as the hurling aficionados like to remind us time and time again is, in their opinion, the home of hurling, well whether that is true or false Kildare footballers have taken a bit of liking to it as they showed again on Saturday.
It was back in 2015 when The Lilies buried the Corkonians, in Jason Ryan's final year in charge, the boys in red leaving the stadium in a state of near shock with their heads held low.
After that game the man on the PA implored fans not to go on to the sacred turf as there was a big hurling game on 24 hours later but a decent gent on the small pitch-side gate — realising the significance of the victory — said to one and all ‘go ahead and enjoy the occasion’ as he stepped aside to facilitate the Kildare folk.
Not sure if the Cork players were in a similar state of shock on Saturday but they exited the Stadium with the same result.
Throw in another league encounter in Pairc Uí Caoimh, two years ago when The Lilies flourish-
ed on a pitch that looked like a ploughed field, Kildare coming out on top as The Rebels began a decline that saw them end up in Division 3, soon after.
Meanwhile driving into Thurles was somewhat strange on Saturday, very strange indeed, especially with a big, big hurling game, Tipp v Cork, due to be played later in the evening.
No drinkers on the streets.
No stall sellers.
But for some reason the mind rambled to one particular day, wouldn't even dream to say how long ago, but it was a big hurling day, big crowds, sunny day, everyone in top form.
Now many is the victory in the famous stadium that has been described as daylight robbery or a team hand been ‘pick-pocketed’ late on. However the day I recall was one when a pick-pocket of a different variety occurred while enjoying a pre-match beverage, not in the famous Hayes Hotel I hasten to add, but in a licenced preemies less than a 14 yards free away from where the GAA was formed back in 1884.
I was dipped, wallet lifted, later found, would you believe in the gents toilets in no less a place than Thurles Sarsfields Clubhouse, and needless to say a good bit lighter.
It is days such as that one finds out who their real friends are, I was with mine that day, and when we eventually returned home to base — with a weightless wallet — I was, I hasten to add, not suffering from the thirst!
On Saturday last there was no need to worry about dippers, buskers, stall holders or the like.
The boys in red were the only folk we were concerned about.
And with one of our own, Cian O'Neill, who managed The Lilies for four years bringing them from Division 3 to Division 1, before departing and linking up with The Rebels, it was a big concern that the opposition had such a big insight and knowledge of the majority of the boys in white.
Amid the deafening sound of silence, broken only by the shrill of referee Maurice Deegan's whistle, the game got under way and it was the boys in red who dominated early on.
They looked well up for it as they quickly built up a three point lead as they began their campaign hoping to make it two promotions on the trot, and rejoining the elite counties in Division 1.
The Lilies, may have took their time but they gradually came to grips with the situation despite Cork enjoying most of the possession.
The beaten Munster finalists of 2020 had their chances, not goal chances in fairness, but no shortage of opportunities to raise the white flag at the bottom of Mark Donnellan's upright, but through a combination of great defensive work and determination from Jack O'Connor's boys, coupled with some wild scoring attempts (including one close-in free and a 45) they inexplicably found themselves trialing by one at the break.
No doubt Kildare were reminded they were somewhat fortuitous to have their noses in front but so be it.
Possession-wise Kildare improved immensely on the resumption and while neither midfielders, the young pairing of Luke Flynn and Aaron Masterson at any stage dominated proceedings, in fact it is fair to say the game in many respects passed them by, nevertheless the pair left a mark, Luke with a fine first half point and Arron heavily involved in the two Kildare goals and a lot more, in the second period.
The dreaded hamstring struck for the unfortunate Daniel Lad, just as he was threatening the Cork defence with his pace and his ability to score points off both pegs, which he did with aplomb.
However the influence of his replacement, Neil Flynn, cannot be under estimated. He was immense, two excellent converted frees and a 45 hit over with consummate ease reminded everyone just what he has to offer.
Alex Beirne made his debut and it fair to say he did not set Semple Stadium alight; he looked at times somewhat overawed but this is a talented lad and he has the ability, and the credentials, to make his mark, given time.
The defence, as a whole, did well. The half back line of Kevin Flynn (brilliant), captain David Hyland and the returned Ryan Houlihan, held their immediate opponents scoreless.
Paul Cribbin did what Paul Cribbin does, works hard, then loses concentration and possession before popping up with an outlandish point or two.
Darragh Kirwan was immense and picked up where he left off in 2020 in great style.
And what about Jimmy Hyland?
If we though his catch, mark and conversion was class, his finish for the second goal showed that The Lark was singing to his heart's content.
Kevin Feely worked hard but given the role he was asked to perform, left his marker in a sweeping role — unattended — and he, Sean Powter, cut out many a Kildare first half attack.
Brian McLoughlin and Shane O'Sullivan got on the field of play and will see more game time, have no doubt, while Fergal Conway injected that bit of steel when he arrived on the scene as did Conor Hartley and Con Kavanagh.
Shea Ryan should be available next week having served a one game ban from the Meath game in November so overall a great start and hopefully that can be built on against Clare on Sunday.
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