Kildare are back in the Eirgrid All-Ireland U-20 football championship final for the first time since 2018, after their defensive strength proved to be their trump card in a tense encounter with Sligo.

With the exception of corner-forward Aaron Browne, Kildare's attack largely failed to fire, despite the Lilywhites enjoying plenty of possession in the middle third of the field and setting up plenty of chances for their marksmen.

However, at the other end of the field, Kildare held the Sligo attack in an iron grip throughout, restricting the Connacht county to just 0-07 in total, and only two points from inside 40 metres.

That defensive strength was particularly to the fore in the first quarter when Kildare got the better of the kickout battle but also held the Sligo attack scoreless, forcing low percentage shots from difficult positions.

Dean O’Donoghue marshalled his back six incredibly well, as Sligo simply couldn’t work their way into good scoring positions.

The quality of chances created at the opposite end of the field was vastly superior, and while the shooting into the town end goal in the first half could best be described as mixed – Kildare added nine wides and five shots dropped short to their eight scores – Brendan Gibbons and Luke Killian kept loading the gun for their attacking colleagues, with Aaron Browne leading the way as he shot three excellent scores in the first half.

The first four points of the game all went the way of the Leinster side, including accurate scores from wide positions from Browne and Adam Fanning.

It took a wonderful long-range strike from Oisín Flynn to get Sligo off the mark in the 17th minute, but when Lee Duignan followed up with a free from the 45-metre line, it felt as if the westerners had weathered the early storm without sustaining too much damage.

Kildare’s dominance of the kickout battle continued to limit Sligo’s ability to exert sustained pressure on the opposition defence however, and while a string of missed chances left Sligo in the game, three points in three minutes just before half time, two from Browne and another from Niall O’Regan, left it 0-8 to 0-3 at the interval, which was a much more accurate reflection of the general flow of the play.

Sligo’s sense of urgency was clear to see immediately after half-time when their first couple of attacks saw them pass up simply point-scoring opportunities in a bid to try and test Kildare goalkeeper Cormac Barker, all to no avail.

Gavin Duffy did strike the first point of the second half in the 36th minute, but Kildare replied immediately with a point from Niall O’Regan, the Celbridge player covering 50 metres unchallenged before he popped the ball over the bar from close range.

Kildare defender Dean O'Donoghue (L) and manager manager Brian Flanagan

Between the 40th and the 51st minute, Sligo enjoyed their best spell in the game, setting up a really tense finish. Midfielder Joseph Keaney led by example, firing over his second point to crown an all-action performance, and successive scores from Canice Mulligan and Eoghan Smith really raised the temperature in the stadium when they added points to cut the gap to just two.

For the last ten minutes of play however, Kildare’s defence held firm, repelling Sligo’s running attacks and their attempts to work something through high balls into the square with equal aplomb.

It fell to the unlikely figure of Cormac Barker to finally get their attacking play back firing again as the goalkeeper drove forward to set up a 40 metre free that Tommy Gill drilled between the sticks.

Aaron Browne added the next to leave Sligo needing at least two scores to draw level, and while the Yeats County threw everything they had at it, hoping for another miracle win along the same lines as they enjoyed against Mayo, this time they couldn’t find a way through the Kildare defence.

It fell to O’Donoghue to drive forward and pick off the last score of the game, in the process confirming Kildare’s passage through to next week’s All-Ireland decider against either Kerry or Tyrone.

Kildare: Cormac Barker; Mark Maguire, Dean O’Donoghue (0-01), Harry O’Neill; Tommy Gill (0-02, 0-01 free), James McGrath, Niall O’Regan (0-02); Brendan Gibbons, Luke Killian; Ryan Burke, Daniel Lynam (0-01), Shane Farrell; Eoin Bagnall, Adam Fanning (0-01), Aaron Browne (0-5).

Subs: Darragh Swords for Lynam (41), James Dalton for Bagnall (46), Jack McKevitt for Fanning (56), Tomás Von Engelbrechten for O’Regan (60+1), Tom Martin for Farrell (60+3).

Sligo: Cian Kilcoyne; Conor Johnston, Shane Molloy, Mark McGowan; Canice Mulligan (0-01), Jack Lavin, Dylan Walsh; Joseph Keaney (0-02), Feidhlim O’Donnell; James Donlon, Lee Duignan (0-01, free), Oisín Flynn (0-01); Gavin Duffy (0-01), Eoghan Smith (0-01), Jack Davitt.

Subs: Luke Casserly for Flynn (half-time), Luke Marren for Duffy (36), Matt Henry for Walsh (46), Oisín Gorman for Smith (55), Ciarán O’Reilly for O’Donnell (55).

Referee: Martin McNally (Monaghan)