Kildare and Donegal produced one of the most exciting matches of this year's Bank of Ireland Football Championship so far with the Lilywhites coming out on top by a mere point in tonight's All-Ireland Championship Second Round qualifier at Newbridge. Despite trailing by eight points early in the first half, Kildare fought back to within a point by the break and then matched Donegal’s efforts throughout the second period to set up a nail-bitting finish.
Donegal started this match with amazing pace and determination, notching up four points to no score in the opening 12 minutes and then further extended their lead when Brendan Devenney, supplied by Tony Boyle, deceived his marker Brian Lacey and ran on before shooting from the edge of the square right into the back of the net.
Fifteen minutes into the match and Donegal led by eight points, 1-05 to 0-00 but it was obvious that the leaders would not be able to sustain such intense pressure for the whole of this match and once Kildare had notched up their first point through Eddie McCormack, it eased the pressure on the home side. In the 20th minute, keeper Christy Byrne made a vital save from Devenney, who was looking particularly dangerous and it seemed to be the catalyst Kildare needed to shrug off their early sluggishness and make an impression on what had been a totally one-sided contest in the opening stages. They notched up a string of fine points to reduce the gap to just one by half-time when they trailed Donegal 1-07 to 0-09.
Kildare began the second half as they finished the first, with Johnny Doyle kicking over the equaliser within a minute of the re-start. Two minutes later Kildare almost netted when Tadgh Fennin struck Ronan Sweeney's deflected effort straight at the keeper. Over the next five minutes, both sides exchanged scores as the pointed from all over the park. However, the turning point came in the 48th minute when Kildare, trailing once again by a single point, netted through Martin Lynch to take the lead for the first time in the game.
Tony Boyle reduced the deficit to one point for Donegal in the 50th minute but seconds later Kildare led once again by two when Fennin pointed. By the 58th minute, Kildare had opened up a four-point lead but then it was Donegal's turn to stage a comeback and a string of fine points from Devenney and Adrian Sweeney reduced the margin to a single point by the 62nd minute. Donegal had the chance to equalise but Sweeney sent the ball wide of the post for his team's 11th wide of the game compared with six wides for Kildare.
Donegal finally equalised in the 67th minute through Sweeney and the majority of spectators in Newbridge were settling down for another 30 minutes of action as the game drew to a close. Substitute Paddy Murray had the chance to steal the match for Kildare in they final minute of normal time but sent the ball wide. However, two minutes into injury time a good pass from McCormack found Dermot Earley at the far post and he managed to fist the ball to Ken Doyle who became Kildare's hero when he sent the ball flying over the bar to give Kildare a 1-17 to 1-16 lead. The Lilywhites held on valiantly during the final few minutes of stoppage time to continue on to the next round of the qualifiers.
Filed by Amanda Fennelly