Summer comes early to Kildare, as a nail-biting single-point victory over Clare sees The Lilywhite Senior Footballers return to Division 1 of GAA’s Allianz league.
Hours after the clocks had been set forward for summer, Cian O’Neill’s charges turned back time to seal a return to the top division after a four-year gap, on a beautiful sunny day in Newbridge.
The home supporters had gathered in their thousands for this repeat of last year’s Division 3 final — which the Banner won — knowing a fifth victory of the campaign would secure promotion to the top flight with a game to spare. After an early tit-for-tat swapping of points, which saw Kildare dominate possession but Clare look the more dangerous on the counter-attack, the hosts eventually pulled clear, opening up a five point lead at the interval, 11 points to six, marshalled by the placeballs of young midfielder Kevin Feely.
After disastrous back-to-back relegations that had left the 2010 All-Ireland semi-finalists languishing in the 3rd tier, Kildare stood just 35 minutes away from securing any equally swift return.
Hopes of a celebratory procession in the second half were quickly dashed as Clare, All-Ireland quarter-finalists last year, came flying out of the traps. In the first 10 minutes of the half, the visitors outscored Kildare by 1–6 to 0–3, to hit the front. The Munstermen, who also hit posts on three different occasions, looked likely to push on and seal the win, but the home side dug deep, surviving the black card of Feely to seal an 0–18 to 1–14 victory in the penultimate minute.
O’Neill has now led his young side to successive promotions back to the top table. If they are to survive more than a single season among the big boys, they will need to improve on this showing, with Division 1 a huge step up in class from the lower rungs. If they can continue to develop over the coming seasons however, this may not be the last day in the sun for the Lilies.