O'Byrne Cup round one
It was six points in the end, which was a true enough reflection on the gap in quality between the two teams in St Conleth's Park on Saturday afternoon, but the scoreline will probably just be an afterthought to manager Cian O'Neill as he witnessed some of the newcomers to his side make a big impact in their first competitive outing.
Shea Ryan was solid at the back, excellently led through the game by captain Eoin Doyle. Conor Hartley was composed throughout and kicked three points from play in a fine display, while Ben McCormack kicked three fabulous scores and won plenty of dirty ball on the inside line in his first senior appearance for the county. Aside from the debutants, there were good performances from the likes of Doyle, Fionn Dowling, Neill Flynn and Niall Kelly that will have pleased their manager.
Longford were highly defensive from the first whistle, and it turned the game into the type of spectical you would usually associate with this time of year, despite the conditions being near imperious in St Conleth's Park.
Kildare really struggled to get to grips with the system that Longford were operating with, and the likes of Neill Flynn and Ben McCormack were consistently surrounded by numerous defenders each time they managed to get their hands on the ball close to goal. At times the visitors left just one man up front -Liam Connerton- and funneled 14 men behind the ball in an attempt to stagnate Kildare attacks.
The Midlanders were also the more efficient in the opening stages as Sean McCormack started the scoring with a well struck free. They should have had a goal soon after when Robbie Smyth broke clear, but he fumbled the ball, and although Connerton struck the leather from the ground towards goal, a combination of Mark Donnellan and Mick O'Grady kept the ball out.
Neill Flynn got Kildare up and running with a seventh minute free, though Longford goalkeeper Paddy Collum cancelled that score out with a converted '45.
Fionn Dowling registered the first mark of the game when he caught a kickout from Donnellan on the halfway line, though the Suncroft man carried on playing rather than taking the free. Smyth and McCormack kicked points for the visitors either side of scores from Fergal Conway and an exceptional Conor Hartley point. Longford took control of the game for a short period thereafter, with an excellent left wing free from Smyth and a fine effort from McCormack stretching their lead to three points.
Dowling and Smyth swapped a point each, before Kildare took control of the tie five minutes before the break. McCormack started the purple patch when he shook off two Longford defenders and split the posts under pressure from 30 metres out, before the game-changing goal came a minute later. McCormack began the move after he won a ball on the end line and recycled it to Flynn, who squared a beautiful eye of the needle pass to Niall Kelly, allowing the Athy man to roll the ball into the corner of Collum's net.
A couple of Dowling frees later and Kildare were suddenly 1-7 to 0-7 ahead as referee Barry Tiernan blew for half-time.
The second half provided some decent passages of play, but it proved to be a pretty limp affair that lacked any real semblance of intensity. Kildare were quite good however, and there were certainly plenty of positives to take from the opening 10 minutes of the half.
It took less than 60 seconds for the hosts to get the scoring underway once again as Niall Kelly did brilliantly to set up Hartley who had a simple task of tapping over from 15 metres out. The score of the game arrived soon after as Kildare turned the ball over in defence, with Eoin Doyle beginning the move. The ball was worked excellently through Fionn Dowling and Niall Kelly, before Neill Flynn took the ball on the '45, skinned his man and dissected the uprights at the Town End with a beautiful curling shot.
Fine points from Dowling and McCormack stretched Kildare's lead to seven points, and the game petered out after that. Longford offered some resistance through points from Smyth and McCormack, but further scores from Flynn, Hartley, Dowling and McCormack kept the visitors at arms length.
The most noteworthy aspect of the final quarter was the fact that David Slattery and Pascal Connell made their senior debuts, while Sean Hurley also made his return to action for the Lilywhites.
Scorers for Kildare: F Dowling 0-5(4f), N Kelly 1-0, N Flynn(2f), C Hartley and B McCormack 0-3 each, F Conway 0-1.
Scorers for Longford: S McCormack(3f) and R Smyth 0-5(1f) each, P Collum and G Rogers 0-1 each.
M Donnellan; P Kelly, D Hyland, M O'Grady; S Ryan, E Doyle, J Byrne(O Lyons ht); T Moolick, F Dowling; F Conway(D Slattery 57mins( E Callaghan 70mins blood sub), C Hartley, K Cribbin(E Heavey 55mins); N Flynn(S Hurley 68mins), N Kelly(P Connell 63mins), B McCormack.
P Collum; P McGee(D Brady 61mins), A Farrell, C Farrelly; B Gilleran, P McCormack, B McKeon(J Keegan 64mins); D Gallagher, B O'Farrell; L Sullivan(P Kiernan ht), R Smyth, D Masterson(D Brady 49mins); M Hughes(G Rogers 54mins), L Connerton(B Farrell 62mins), S McCormack.
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