Kildare manager, Jack O'Connor, celebrates Kildare's win over Meath with Brian McLoughlin
The National Anthem may have been a tad slow in airing at St Conleth's Park, Newbridge, on Sunday, but when it did get going, few, if any, decided to sing along, no doubt adhering rigidly to government covid guidelines.
Prior to that we had bumped into some of The Lilies greatest supporters over the years and none more so than Ollie Doyle and his wife Ann; the Towers man delighted to be back at a game.
Billy Dunne wasn't too far away either, proudly sitting in the soon-to-be demolished stand and ready for the off. Down at the Kilcullen end the dividing wall between the stadium and the back garden of a few private houses, was not short of supporters, while the terrace side was well sprinkled with fans and supporters, mostly legit, an odd one or two having, shall we say, got there under dubious circumstances.
Where's there's a will ...
Bumped into my former right hand work colleague, Ruth (Chambers) O'Brien, now back home in her native Meath who is also Chairperson of Walterstown GAA Club as well as being involved with the Meath Co. Board.
Always said she would go places.
Just 24 hours earlier Kildare hurlers had achieved their no. 1 aim of 2021, that being promoted out of Division 2B and while they were certainly put to the pin of their collars, they nevertheless came good when the chips were down against Mayo.
Congratulations to David Herity, his management; captain Brian Byrne and all his fellow players. Next up for last season's Christy Ring Cup champions is their opening game in the Joe McDonagh Cup and a tilt with Carlow.
Kildare Ladies also had a mighty win, they defeated Sligo to book a place in the Division 3 league final.
Back in Newbridge and while the sun may not have broken through, the temperature was rising as the clock moved to 2, a repeat of last season's Leinster SFC semi final, a chance to be crowned joint winners of Division 2 of the Allianz Football League, an opportunity to gain revenge on The Royals but most importantly of all, a gilt edged chance to join the elite counties and operate in Division 1 of the League come 2022.
Kildare had been hit with a big blow before a ball was even kicked in anger with Daniel Flynn being ruled out due to a recurrence of a hamstring, ironically not the same one that has been causing him the bother in recent times, but the other leg.
He still manages to smile, still manages to be positive and still hopes to see action, hopefully in three weeks time.
The Lilies got off to a flyer with a Neil Flynn punt forward that ended in the arms of Jimmy Hyland who filled the Meath net.
Was that an absolute replica of the Clare goal scored at the same end just a few weeks ago when Cathal O'Connor's attempted point fell into the hands of Joe McCann who buried it?
Within minutes of scoring on Sunday Jimmy Hyland was on the line, hamstring gone.
A few years ago, a fair few years I agree, it wasn't hamstrings that were causing players' problems, it was groins.
Groin operations were practically ten a penny. Now it seems hamstrings have taken over. Obviously something to do with little or no pre-season but certainly Kildare are picking up their fair share of those troublesome injuries.
The Lilies dominated Meath on Sunday in every area of the field. They tore into them like their lives depended on it. They hunted in packs, time and time again turned them over, it was brilliant to see as the boys in green and gold just could not find the room or the space to open up the Kildare defence.
Paul Cribbin, who had been doing well, was then sidelined, stretchered off and straight to hospital with what looked like a nasty ankle injury and suddenly The Lilies were without two big players. Enter two young lads in the shape of Brian McLoughlin and Alex Beirne.
Each have just started once for Kildare seniors; each have potential, no doubt, but this was different, fired into a huge game and against a county that are known not to take prisoners and a reputation of eking out wins against all the odds, as they have done down the years, and against Kildare at that.
This though was different, the more the game evolved, the more Kildare looked settled, comfortable and at ease.
By the break there were six separating them.
Yes six, the same as separated them back in November in the Leinster semi final.
And we all know how that ended.
But this time was different.
This was a different Kildare side, this was a side that seemed to have the belief, and the confidence, to motor on and every time The Royals scored The Lilies replied in kind.
Then more disaster.
A straight red for Luke Flynn who had been involved with Brian Conlon but this time the official, having been called by his linesman, flashed a yellow to Conlon but a red to Flynn.
Twenty minutes plus still remaining; eight points separating the sides but a man short on a red hot humid day in a game that up to now had seen Kildare throw everything at their opponents, covering every blade of grass at the back, in the middle and up front.
Young McLoughlin though was growing into the game, finding the range from both frees and open play.
Eoin Doyle was leading by example keeping his opposite number, Cillian O'Sullivan tied up (no an easy task). To a man the defence was magnificent, no weak link, the same sextet finished as had started, not forgetting net minder Donnellan, who did what he had to when called upon.
Clock was ticking.
Meath had gone to the bench for reinforcements in the Wallace boys and Mickey Newman, all well know to relish these situations.
Sixty minutes on the clock and Shea Ryan comes forward to punch over to put no less than nine points in it.
Aaron Masterson plucks one out from the clouds, then another, but Meath are not yet gone away. Then again Meath never go away regardless of the circumstances.
Remember ... no don't go there too many occasions they have come back to win games they should have been buried in.
And though they were hanging on by the tails of their collective shirts they were still there as Wallace and Morris reduce the gap; quickly followed by another Morris point but with just two minutes remaining and five points the difference surely The Lilies were on their way.
Suddenly all hell breaks out.
A mini dust up and was soon much more.
It went on and on.
Referee and his officials consulted with one another.
Five players were called in.
Two reds and two yellows for Meath and one yellow for Kildare.
Off we go again.
Newman and Jordan fire over two more before Donnellan spared The Lilies the blushes denying Darragh Campion.
The long whistle.
At last a win over Meath.
It could, and should have been by eight or nine.
Meath boss not a happy camper.
Accuses a Kildare player of spitting; hopefully untrue; no place for that, regardless.
That aside Kildare have put down a mark. They have passed a stern test despite being ravaged by injuries and ill-luck.
Leinster Championship awaits but for many this was Kildare's big day of 2021.
Hopefully a lot more to come!
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