Carlow took a positive first step towards promotion back to the Leinster SHC when they overcame a strong Kildare challenge by three points in the first round of the Joe McDonagh Cup at St. Conleth's Park.
Kildare certainly hit the ground running in their first ever fixture in this competition, moving into an 0-04 to 0-00 lead after ten minutes thanks to some clever use of the ball, two brilliant defensive interventions from Declan Flaherty and Simon Leacy, and three frees from Brian Byrne.
Carlow seemed to struggle to find their range into the town end goal, missing the target with a series of shots and dropping several more short and into the hand of Paddy McKenna. A lateral breeze didn’t really favour either team, while Kildare had another big shot in the arm when McKenna made a great recovery to clear the sliotar off the line just as it looked as if Kevin McDonald’s flick off Flaherty’s hurl would generate the game’s first goal.
A couple of excellent scores from John Michael Nolan and Jon Nolan eventually settled Tom Mullally’s side into the game and as Kildare’s accuracy started to desert them, the game was levelled by the 25th minute at 0-07 apiece.
Carlow continued to hold the upper hand for the remainder of the half and led by 0-11 to 0-08 at the break, but a superb goal from James Burke in the fourth minute of the second half put the result back in the melting pot.
That score also ignited a contest that was intriguing, but had lacked do-or-die intensity up to that point. A long diagonal ball was brilliantly fielded by John Michael Nolan and he turned down the option of a simple point, instead setting up McDonald for Carlow’s first goal.
Kildare replied instantly, Caolan Smith sweeping the sliotar to the net after a sideline cut was dropped into a packed goalmouth and the loose break fell perfectly for the Clane man, but McDonald was soon on target again for his second green flag, capitalising on good pressure from the Carlow inside forward line when Kildare were trying to clear their lines.
That score pushed the lead out to six, but Kildare weren’t done yet. Jack Sheridan fired over a free, James Burke followed up with his second goal and the home side’s third, and from then on it was nip and tuck right up until the final whistle.
A series of Carlow frees pushed the lead out to four, but Kildare kept coming, with Cathal Derivan and Shane Ryan on the mark with good scores.
It wasn’t quite enough however, as Carlow got the win they needed to set up a fascinating encounter with Westmeath on home soil this day week.
Carlow: Brian Tracey; Dion Wall, Paul Doyle, Michael Doyle; Ger Coady, James Doyle (0-02), Tony Lawlor; David English (0-03, frees), Richard Coady (0-01); Jon Nolan (0-02), Chris Nolan (0-10, 0-06 frees), Craig Wall; Kevin McDonald (2-02), John Michael Nolan (0-02, 0-01 sideline), Ted Joyce.
Subs: Jack McCullagh for Joyce (26, temp), Jack Kavanagh for Lawlor (48), Gary Lawlor for Wall (52), Paul Coady for R Coady (65), Aaron Amond for Joyce (70+3).
Kildare: Paddy McKenna; Simon Leacy, Rian Boran, Cathal Derivan (0-01); Jack Travers, Declan Flaherty (0-01), Kevin Whelan (0-01); Brian Byrne (0-04, frees), Cathal Dowling; Kevin Aherne, James Burke (2-02), Johnny Byrne; Cathal McCabe, Jack Sheridan (0-05, frees), David Slattery.
Subs: Conor Dowling (0-01) for Aherne (30), Caolan Smith (1-00) for J Byrne (half-time), Shane Ryan (0-01) for McCabe (45), Seán Christianseen for Flaherty (45).
Referee: Colum Cunning (Antrim)