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Friday 18 August 2017

Flynn fires Lily rout of an abysmal Laois

Kildare get in groove for Meath showdown

Kildare’s Tommy Moolick celebrates. SPORTSFILE
Kildare’s Tommy Moolick celebrates. SPORTSFILE

We came to O'Connor Park seeking early-summer portents concerning the pace of Kildare's evolution under Cian O'Neill.

We got it; and on this evidence we can expect a rip-roaring Tullamore battle against Meath rivals on a similar trajectory on Saturday week.

And yet this farcical mismatch of a Leinster SFC quarter-final was as much a story of Laois football's sad decline as it was about Kildare's ascent from the Division 3 depths that they fell into a couple of years back.

Next spring, Laois will be in Division 4. For the last 50 minutes yesterday we saw why.

The Laois public's loss of faith has been palpable for most of this decade but, after last month's four-goal salvo against Longford, there were a few flickers of guarded optimism.

Then, after 57 seconds here, when Donie Kingston bulldozed through three defenders to fire an opening goal, there was even more reason to believe.

Nailed

That goal stemmed from Evan O'Carroll blocking an attempted pass as Ollie Lyons burst out of defence. When the same Laois forward nailed a 47-metre free into the teeth of a strong wind, the game was tied at 0-5 to 1-2, there were 22 minutes on the clock and the underdogs must have felt they were well in the game.

And yet, even at that juncture, you could sense a difference between Kildare's cohesive link play and Laois's propensity for one-off individual forays.

Once the Lilies upped their tackling intensity, the difference grew to a chasm.

Kildare hit seven unanswered points from the 24th minute to lead by 0-12 to 1-2 at the break. During this pivotal period, five consecutive Laois attacks ended in turnovers - the last, bizarrely, on wandering 'keeper Graham Brody inside Kildare's '65'.

Kevin Feely also won three Laois kickouts on the spin before half-time - a further sign not just of their growing assurance but that Laois's brittle resistance had cracked.

The second half was a non-event, not that Kildare can be blamed for twisting the knife even against the wind.

The 70-minute audit would reveal 13 different Lilywhite scorers, 11 from open play.

Daniel Flynn, back in the SFC groove for the first time since 2013 after his Aussie Rules adventure and last year's injury travails, led the onslaught with 1-3. He came alive in the second quarter and then took a pass from David Slattery before jinking onto his left foot for their only goal on 48 minutes.

By then it was a case of by how many? A minute later, Alan Farrell landed the first of only three Laois points from open play; Gary Walsh, buzzing with intent off the bench, in stark contrast to many of his colleagues, added the other two.

Afterwards, the Kildare boss pronounced himself delighted with their performance over the last three quarters. "We knew we had to win the battle first and win the football second," O'Neill remarked. "Because we saw how physically imposing Laois were against Longford.

"It's something we worked on in the last couple of weeks, particularly in training camp (in Portugal). We put a huge emphasis, not just on our game but on the strength of opposition. When questions were asked, they really stood up and that's a really impressive thing."

Still, you've got to wonder if O'Neill would have preferred a stiffer challenge, if only in preparation for the infinitely tougher test that Meath will surely pose at the same venue on June 17.

This was a chastening end to Peter Creedon's maiden Leinster campaign.

"They are two or three years down working with Cian and they have had a lot of good young players coming through. They played well," the Laois manager accepted. "I'm not so sure they are 14 points a better team than us. Today they were but we just have to knuckle down for the qualifiers."

Asked if it will be difficult to pick them up, Creedon replied: "I'd be surprised if it is. There is a good spirit in the camp and they want to do well for Laois and themselves.

"We have no choice," he added, citing their 11-point victory over Longford - a team that showcased its qualifier credentials with wins over Down and Monaghan last summer.

Wonder

But that hasn't always happened with this group of players and you've got to wonder if this year will be any different.

For Kildare, it's onwards and upwards. They had big performers in every line, none better than workaholic wing-back Keith Cribbin, Feely at midfield and Flynn up front.

Ben McCormack (foot surgery) is facing a further six-eight week lay-off while Neil Flynn (grade two hamstring tear) won't be ready for the Royals either. "But we are focusing on who we have available," O'Neill remarked ... they're doing fine so far.

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