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Sunday 17 December 2017

Lilies bloom in Down massacre

NOTHING like a 10-point win (1-18 to 0-11) on the road for what ails ya'.

And as Kildare's players strolled happily back to the dressing-rooms in Páirc Esler, basking in the ripple of appreciative applause from those supporters who decided to stick with the team through the thin part of thick and thin, you could almost see the benefits of what they had just done in this All-Ireland SFC Qualifier Round 2B.

Next up, it's Clare in Ennis and on this performance, they're surely odds-on for a last 12 spot.

Ten points.

It's as authoritative a hiding as any team could possibly expect in Newry.

And for Kildare, it's an encouraging sign for a team still struggling to figure out which end of the scale of their oscillating performances their true form lies.

capitulate

No-one outside the camp had expected Kildare to do what they did to Louth. And after such a complete performance, fewer again expected them to capitulate so absent-mindedly to Meath in Croke Park a couple of weeks back.

Add the two performances together and attempt to come up with an answer as to how Kildare would react in Newry seemed a wholly confusion task.

"Just to get a win was great because the last day was really hard," reflected Kildare manager Jason Ryan afterwards.

"The expectation in Kildare is massive so when you lose any game it's a huge disappointment and to lose the Meath game, after the performance in the Louth game, was disappointing.

"Against Meath we didn't perform. It was (a tough draw) but we played division one football all year and we're used to playing against good teams."

"It didn't matter who it was. We just wanted a game as fast as possible."

A brief synopsis of the game would constitute a strong Kildare opening half in which their dominance was denied full representation on the scoreboard.

Then, a Benny Coulter led Down fightback.

Followed by a brilliant closing 10 minutes from Kildare in which they scored 1-6 and denied Down a single score.

"We didn't get into it," said Down boss, James McCartan, for whom days like these have become more and more common since he led the team to an All-Ireland final appearance in his debut season back in 2010.

"The performance was very poor and we were disappointed with that at half-time. If we had repeated that in the second-half, we would have been limping out of the championship without a fight.

"We asked them to go out with at least a fight. We played tremendous stuff for 15 minutes but somewhere along the line, the momentum went out of it and Kildare came back into it. We just stopped scoring."

Kildare, conversely, couldn't have stopped in that closing ten minutes if they tried.

And to be strictly fair about it, Down didn't deserve to be buried as deep as they were by the end.

True, Kildare had been the better team in the first half. They tackled harder, turned Down over more often and found more space in the clogged channels of their opposition's defence than Down did in theirs.

But in Dan Gordon, Down had a man with a very specific set of skills and chief among them was catching kickouts at his leisure. In open play, no doubt that Tommy Moolick and Gary White (blacked carded in the 50th minute) were the more productive midfield pairing but Gordon destroyed them in the air off both keepers' kickouts.

That Kildare went in five points ahead reflected well on Down's luck.

And then, Benny Coulter went to 
full-forward and changed the complexion of the game.

tormenting

Despite receiving attention for his many and visible ailments in the breaks in play in which he wasn't tormenting Hugh McGrillen, he kicked four points and nearly had a goal and almost on his own, got the game level.

Positivity though, is one of Jason Ryan's most endearing assets. And his team, despite their recent travails, finished the game like one that believed fully in their abilities.

Fergal Conway was outstanding at centre-back. Pádraig O'Neill kicked three points and kept Kevin McKiernan quiet. Niall Kelly, despite turning over a couple of balls in contact, oozed class and composure in possession.

After a disputed point was awarded to Kildare in the 59th minute, they went to town on Down.

Obliterated them.

Kelly, in particular, shone but the grace-note on the the evening came via Moolick who, for the last score of the game, thumped a shot to the back of the net from 25 metres.

With that, Kildare's players march on to Ennis, a little taller than they had been.

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