Allianz NHL Division 2A
A much improved second half performance was not enough for Kildare as they slumped to a three-point defeat at home to Meath in the opening league game of the hurlers’ campaign. Jack Regan’s stoppage time goal in the first half was the difference between the sides at the end, but Kildare will rue a clutch of missed chances and a failure to provide any sort of service to their full-forward line in what was an overall disappointing display.
Kildare almost got off to the best possible start when their new captain, Brian Byrne, cut in from the right wing and powered a speculative effort towards the top corner of Shane McGann's goal, but the Meath 'keeper got across to block the effort out for a '65. Paul Divilly took the resultant '65, but he struck it wide, starting a trend where the Lilywhites couldn't buy a score from a free as they struck seven wides from presentable placed balls, with Divilly, Richie Ryan and Jack Sheridan all contributing to that tally in the first half.
Ryan did manage to get the home side's opening score with a tidy effort from the left wing, and Sheridan followed that up with a superb effort after claiming a Meath puc out. Meath eventually settled into the tie, mainly thanks to the excellent free-taking of Jack Regan, who showed the opposition the value of having someone reliable to stroke over points from all distances and angles. He slotted over a couple of composed efforts to tie the game, before James Toher got their first point from play with an excellent long range score.
Ryan took over free-taking duties for the hosts and pointed his first effort, but three more misses during the remainder of the half saw him taken out of that role too. A point from the industrious Paddy Conneely put Meath back in the lead, before another Regan free doubled that advantage soon after. Kildare responded with a sublime effort from the left touchline from Paul Divilly, but they continued to misfire after that, allowing two frees from Regan to fatten the Royals' lead.
James Burke, on his first start at senior level in league action for either club or county, was put on frees before the end of the half, and he knocked over a fine effort from 70 metres to offer some respite for the Lilywhites. Joe Quaid's men were dealt a blow just before half-time however, with referee David Hughes awarding a 35th minute penalty when John Doran pulled Colm O'Mealoid down in the square after he claimed a high ball swung in by Regan. Goalkeeper Paddy McKenna was also injured in the incident, leaving Paul Dermody to come on and face the penalty. He stood no chance as Regan thumped the ball into the top right-hand corner, pushing them five points clear.
Regan added another point to his individual tally before the break, but Kildare at least went into the interval on a positive not as Éanna O'Neill dropped a stunning point over the bar from inside his own half to leave the scores at 1-8 to 0-6 at the turnaround.
Kildare started the second half on the attack as Martin Fitzgerald shaved a point off the deficit by wriggling free to create space, but a superb score from Toher at the other end and another clean strike from Conneely kept the visitors well in control. Burke and James Kelly then traded points as Meath maintained their five-point advantage, but the tide soon turned as Joe Quaid introduced Bernard Deay, who has only recently returned from Australia. The Clane man made a massive impact with his high energy style, winning frees and creating some havoc in the Meath full-back line.
This also coincided with the beginning of James Burke’s dominance on proceedings as he struck five points in the space of 13 minutes to pull Kildare back into the game. Four of those were from frees, while one was an absolutely brilliant effort after the former minor star plucked a McKenna puc out from the sky. Fitzgerald also hit the target during that period, but Meath managed to just about keep their noses in front.
As the game entered the final stretch it was finely balanced as Kildare had the momentum but Meath held the lead. Regan and Burke both traded points before stoppage time, and by then it was Meath’s turn to show some complacency on front of goal as Regan struck three wides on the run in, leaving Kildare in with a chance as they trailed by just one point.
The Lilywhites failed to get any major share of possession in the closing stages, with McKenna even being called upon to make a superb save on a close range Eamonn Ó’Donnchadha shot as Meath closed the game out well. A late free from Regan sealed the deal for the Royals, while Kildare also had Paul Divilly sent off in the final minute for a wild pull that bloodied the face of Meath’s Damien Healy.
A fine comeback in the second half from Kildare, but Joe Quaid would have earmarked this as one of the must-win games in Division 2A as they face a tricky task staying in the third tier of hurling.
Scorers for Kildare: J Burke 0-8(7f), M Fitzgerald and R Ryan(1f) 0-2 each, J Sheridan, P Divilly and E O’Neill 0-1 each.
Scorers for Meath: J Regan 1-10(1-0pen, 7f), P Conneely and J Toher 0-2 each, J Kelly and S Quigley 0-1 each.
Paddy McKenna; Cian Forde, John Doran, Paul Sullivan; Éanna O'Neill, Mark Moloney, Mark Grace; Paul Divilly, Niall Ó'Muineacháin; James Burke, Richard Ryan, Jack Sheridan; Brian Byrne, Chris Bonus.
Subs used: Paul Dermody for McKenna blood sub 34-HT, Bernard Deay for Ryan 45mins.
Shane McGann; Keith Keoghan, Damien Healy, Chris Lynch; Daragh Kelly, Joe Keena, Neil Weir; James Toher, Anthony Forde; Paddy Conneely, Colm O'Mealoid, James Kelly; Neil Heffernan, Adam Gannon, Jack Regan.
Subs used: Eoin Marsh for Weir 23mins, Eamonn Ó'Donnchadha for Heffernan 25mins, Sean Quigley for Gannon 52mins, Cathal McCabe for O’Mealoid 65mins.
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