A competitive middle third of this contest was sandwiched in between two utterly dominant spells from Kildare at O'Connor Park in Tullamore this afternoon, as the Lilywhites crushed any idea that Allianz League Division 3 champions Louth might be poised to cause an upset in the last of this weekend’s four Leinster football quarter-finals.
These two counties will play league football at the same level in 2023, but whether it was a difference in class or a difference in exposure to a higher tempo of football, Louth simply couldn’t keep tabs on Kildare in the early exchanges of this game.
With 22 minutes gone, Glenn Ryan’s men were 0-10 to 0-01 to the good, and effectively out of sight. Their tenth point, kicked by Paul Cribbin following superb defensive work from Ryan Houlihan to earn a turnover, meant all six starting Kildare forwards had scored from play at that early stage in proceedings.
Add in Kildare’s complete control of the midfield battle, where seven Louth restarts were won in the opening half, and a strong defensive performance where vim and vigour forced numerous spills of the wet ball out of Louth hands, and everything was going according to plan for the pre-match favourites.
Having endured that nightmare start, Louth actually found their feet a little, perhaps due to finally acclimatising to what was required.
They picked off three of the next four points, with Sam Mulroy showing glimpses of why he has become one of the most highly-rated attackers in the province on a day when Kildare denied him the oxygen of dead ball scoring chances. There were goal opportunities for the Wee County too, most notably a low shot from full back Bevan Duffy that was smothered by Mark Donnellan and a palm to the net from Liam Jackson that was ruled out for a square ball infringement.
Even at this stage however, Kildare continued to look capable of playing with greater efficiency and a much higher pace.
Scores from Daniel Flynn and Jimmy Hyland settled Kildare a little and pushed the lead out to 0-13 to 0-05 at half-time, but momentum continued to favour the Wee County after the break. They picked off the next three points to hint at the possibility of a comeback.
Sam Mulroy with a free and two Conor Grimes points were the only scores inside the first 12 minutes of the second half, before a crucial move from Daniel Flynn killed off the underdogs’ resistance.
The Johnstownbridge man powered down the left wing and accelerated past Niall Sharkey and as he bore down on goal, Sharkey from behind and Donal McKenny from the side combined to bring the Kildare man to the ground as he went for goal. David Gough stretched his arms wide, and a typically clinical penalty pushed the lead back out to eight.
There was no way back for Louth at this stage, and it was as if everyone on the field knew it. Darragh Kirwan came off the bench to kick a string of points before putting the finishing touch on Kildare’s second goal in stoppage time, Paul Cribbin’s relentless energy yielded a couple of scores, while Paddy Woodgate also advanced his case for selection in future games when he picked off two good points.
Ryan Houlihan pulling up with a late injury was perhaps the only negative aspect from Kildare’s point of view, as they eased further and further ahead with the finish line in sight, reinforcing the idea that they are the team that Dublin will want to avoid in tonight’s semi-final draw.
Kildare: Mark Donnellan; Mick O'Grady, Shea Ryan, Ryan Houlihan; Tony Archbold, James Murray, Kevin Flynn; Kevin Feely (1-00 pen), Kevin O’Callaghan; Alex Beirne (0-01), Ben McCormack (0-04), Paul Cribbin (0-03); Brian McLoughlin (0-01), Daniel Flynn (0-03, 0-01 mark), Jimmy Hyland (0-05, 0-01 free).
Subs: Darragh Kirwan (1-03, 0-01 free) for McLoughlin (49), Paddy McDermott for Beirne (52), David Hyland for Murray (62), Paddy Woodgate (0-02, 0-01 free) for Hyland (66), Mike Joyce for Houlihan (66)
Louth: James Califf; Dan Corcoran, Bevan Duffy, Donal McKenny; John Clutterbuck, Niall Sharkey, Eoghan Callaghan; Tommy Durnin (0-01), Conor Early (0-01); Liam Jackson, Sam Mulroy (0-05, 0-01 mark, 0-01 free), Conall McKeever; Ciarán Downey, Conor Grimes (0-03, 0-02 marks), Ciarán Byrne (0-01).
Subs: Leonard Grey for Clutterbuck (27), Tom Jackson for Byrne (half-time), Dermot Campbell for Early (56), Ciarán Keenan for Callaghan (58), Jack Murphy (0-01) for Durnin (67, temporary), Gerard Browne for Duffy (70+2).
Referee: David Gough (Meath).