1. Kildare redemption for Leinster semi-final collapse

WHEN KILDARE TOOK a six-point lead into half-time of this Division 2 semi-final against Meath, they didn’t need reminding that they watched a similar margin crumble into a nine-point loss in last November’s Leinster semi-final. 

On that occasion, Meath’s hard running game saw them net five goals in the second period to turn the game on its head.

This time around however, Jack O’Connor’s side looked far more defensively solid and managed to survive some nervy moments at the finish to prevail by three points. 

They played the final 20 minutes with 14 men after Luke Flynn’s red and failed to score after the 60th minute, but did enough to get over the line.

“All I know is it’s not good for the heart anyway,” stated Kerryman O’Connor afterwards.

“I wouldn’t have minded having a heart monitor on there in the last five or ten minutes. Look, we got over the line but we had a lot of setbacks in that game.

“We lost Jimmy Hyland, Paul Cribbin, Kevin Feely and Luke Flyyn. They are four big players for us. We dug in there. It’s a testament to the lads on the panel that they did a great job for us.”

2. Injury and suspension concerns 

Both Andy McEntee and Jack O’Connor lost a key men to red cards and injury as their respective Leinster quarter-finals loom in three weeks. 

Kevin Feely suffered a reoccurrence of the hamstring injury that has troubled him in recent weeks, while Paul Cribbin went to hospital with a bad looking ankle injury that forced him to be stretchered off. 

Jimmy Hyland grabbed a goal after five minutes but three minutes later a hamstring tweak ended his afternoon early. 

“We have [a lot of injuries], we have undoubtedly,” said O”Connor.

“It will be a few days, it’s a pity now that Feely tweaked that hamstring again, he was playing really well, he kicked a great score and it was in kicking that score that he aggravated that hamstring.

“Poor Jimmy as well, he was having a great season as well, it’s a big setback for Jimmy as well. It was his hamstring,” he said, before confirming that Cribbin was brought by ambulance to hospital. 

“It’s very intense, to be honest with you, it’s four hard matches in five weeks and last weekend we played a challenge game, not a full game but 40 minutes, and it’s tough going, like.”

All-Ireland winning manager Jack O’Connor.

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

Factor in the hamstring injury to Daniel Flynn plus the impending suspension of Luke Flynn after his red card for stamping, and Kildare have concerns around the availability of several key men over the coming weeks.

“It’s three weeks, is it? You never know, we might get one or two fellas back, but we have Daniel Flynn out as well so that’s five big players for us,” O’Connor added.

McEntee was likewise concerned as Brian Conlon and Conor McGill face bans for striking offences, in addition to injuries to Donal Keogan (shoulder) and Bryan Menton (ankle).

3. Kildare seal return to Division 1

For the opening 35 minutes, Kildare played some outstanding football and deservedly took a 1-7 to 0-4 lead into the break. 

McEntee admitted afterwards the first-half was where the damage was done, when his team managed to score just four points. Kildare defended well, closing off the scoring zone with the likes of Eoin Doyle showing good footwork to deny Meath opportunities to shoot at the posts.

They faded in the final quarter, yet to win a game of that magnitude without Daniel Flynn, and after losing Jimmy Hyland, Kevin Feely and Luke Flynn during the game says a lot about their strength in depth. 

O’Connor has successfully integrated a number of the 2018 All-Ireland U20 winners into his team and playing top flight football will bring them on further.

“We reinvented the panel over the last year-and-a-half really because out of the 39 we picked initially there is only 16 left so we brought in a number of younger players,” said O’Connor.

“The experience  [Brian] McLoughlin got coming in there today and playing a game of that magnitude will be players and this will do him an awful lot of good.”

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4. Ugly fracas mars quality spectacle

A protracted fracas took place during second-half injury time that saw referee Barry Cassidy consult with his assistants before punishing four Meath men and one Kildare player.

Derry official Cassidy hand out two reds (to Conlon and McGill), as well as three yellows for Royals pair Andrew Colgan and Ethan Devine, plus Kildare’s Alex Beirne.

McEntee alleged after the game that McGill reacted angrily to being spat in the face by an opponent. The incident took place right in front of the Meath dugout and took a number of minutes to sort out as players from both sides piled in and punches were thrown. 

But McEntee’s allegation is a serious one and the GAA may well decide to investigate the matter, particularly if it was caught on camera. 

It was an ugly end to an otherwise entertaining game that featured plenty of good attacking football.

Meath boss Andy McEntee.

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

5. Meath must regroup quickly 

Meath have responded well to a number of setbacks in the past, including last season’s relegation from Division 1 and the 3-21 to 0-9 Leinster final beating by Dublin.

Wins over Cork and Laois left the Royals in decent knick in Division 2 North but now they must regroup quickly as the focus switches to the winners of Carlow and Longford in the Leinster quarter-final.

Longford are favourites to emerge from round 1 and will be flying high following their Division 3 relegation play-off win over Munster champions Tipperary this weekend.

The heart Meath showed in the final 20 minutes to reduce a nine-point deficit to three will give McEntee some solace heading into the championship. 

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