Meath pull away late to prevail in tense relegation battle with Kildare

Glenn Ryan’s side loses a fourth consecutive game to be left in a significant battle for survival

NFL Division Two: Meath: 0-12 Kildare: 0-9

As the saying goes, you can’t fault the effort. It may be too late now to save Kildare from this suitably dubbed Division of Doom, but they’re not going down without something resembling a fight. Not yet anyway.

They had Meath in some difficultly here, Glenn Ryan’s team sniffing their first points of the campaign when Eoin Doyle burst through from the defence to put them a point up, on 51 minutes. The problem from then on was they couldn’t score again.

Meath, fired on by the rising roar around Páirc Tailteann, eventually broke the near stalemate of the final quarter with four unanswered points in the last nine minutes. It was tense and it wasn’t pretty and in the end Kildare only had themselves to blame.

With Cork, Donegal and then Louth to come, the pressure on Ryan mounts further, although he’s not giving up heart. Injuries didn’t help here either, Kildare losing three starting forwards before the end, including the lively Ben McCormack, and their discipline wasn’t great at times either.


Still it marked some improvement on last week’s heavy defeat to Armagh, the Kildare manager up front on that and yet well aware too where four straight defeats leave his team.

“We asked for a big reaction in that regard from the lads,” said Ryan. “And I don’t think they could have worked much harder out there.

“Certainly they gave everything that they had, but you need to be taking your chances. They worked savagely hard, it’s certainly an improvement, but it’s all about results.”

Colm O’Rourke empathised with that, the Meath manager in a similar position this time last year, losing heavily to Kildare and ending up in the Tailteann Cup. Subsequent victory there ensured their All-Ireland participation this summer, the two points here easing the relegation threat. At least for now.

“I said it to him after, that I’m sorry to see the way things are going for him,” O’Rourke said of Ryan’s predicament. “I played against Glenn Ryan, he was on an International Rules team that I was in charge of, and he was just a wonderful warrior, and a great asset to our time.

“But I think it’s time for people in Kildare to show some loyalty now, it’s very easy to blame the managers, but sometimes the problems lie elsewhere.”

In terms of any swagger that mostly came from Meath, particularly going into the last 10 minutes when they still trailed by a point, 0-9 to 0-8. Cathal Hickey first broke the deadlock, followed by replacement Ruairí Kinsella, before a free from Matthew Costello had Meath’s spirit soaring and Kildare’s hearts sinking.

Aaron Lynch had the last word also off the bench, Meath’s spread of eight scorers notable too over Kildare’s six. Darragh Kirwan, one of Kildare’s brightest forwards this season, retired injured after 14 minutes, and while Alex Beirne had one decent goal chance in the first half, that avenue rarely opened afterwards.

Confidence was also ebbing away, Kevin Feely skewing a couple of chances he’d normally take, their forward play in general a little overly laboured as time ran down.

“Well it’s fairly obvious that confidence isn’t where it would be if you were winning games,” added Ryan. “But we worked very hard to create chances, the lack of confidence didn’t affect the work rate, and that’s the important thing.

“I do see a pathway to improvement, and wherever that gets us, we’ll just take it game by game. Next week will be another difficult test, but we’re keeping it moving forward, trying to get the best out of the lads.

Both goalkeepers had a say in the first half, Meath’s Seán Brennan impressing with a 45 and a free. Eoghan Frayne, Shane Walsh and Darragh Campion were also influential as Meath went 0-5 to 0-2 in front after 15 minutes, although Campion received a black card on 32 minutes.

A point behind at the break, Kildare levelled it twice. Niall Kelly scored for the second time before Doyle’s mighty score on 51 minutes might have acted as the turning point. Instead it was their end point.

For O’Rourke, the result was understandably the most pleasing part: “The performance for long stretches wasn’t great, but the nice thing from our point of view was when we really needed to turn in it on, in those last few minutes, we got four nice scores. But it was looking a bit hairy up to that.

“But our response showed a very positive spirit in the team. Again, a learning experience for a young team, and inexperienced team, but they stuck at it. We’re building slowly, this is the course we’re on, and I think if we stick with it, we’ll be all right in the next year or two.”

MEATH: S Brennan (0-2, one 45, one free); D Keogan, A O’Neill, B O’Halloran; C Caulfield, D Campion (0-1), S Coffey; R Jones (0-1), C McBride; D McGowan, E Frayne (0-3, one free, one mark), J O’Connor; S Walsh, M Costello (0-2, both frees), C Hickey (0-1).

Subs: D Dixon for McBride (h-t), R Kinsella (0-1) for O’Connor (53 mins), A Lynch (0-1) for McGowan (59), M Murphy for Coffey (68), A McDonnell for Frayne (73).

KILDARE: M Donnellan (0-1, a free); R Houlihan, M O’Grady, E Doyle (0-1); J Sargent, F Flynn, P McDermott; A Masterson, R Burke; B Kelly, B McCormack (0-3), A Beirne (0-1); D Kirwan, K Feely (0-2, both frees), D Flynn.

Subs: Niall Kelly (0-1) for Kirwan (14 mins, inj), S Farrell for McCormack (h-t, inj), P Woodgate for Kelly (43, inj), S Ryan for Doyle (63).

Referee: Séamus Mulhare (Laois)

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Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics