Christy Ring Cup Final
KILDARE 3-16 DOWN 0-22
By Paul Keane at Croke Park
Kildare lived on their wits at Croke Park, holding off a thrilling Down comeback to emerge as Christy Ring Cup winners for the second time in three seasons.
Led by former Kilkenny star David Herity, the Lilywhites were six points in front early in the second-half and were five points ahead with 67 minutes on the clock.
But on both occasions they were reeled back in as a determined Down twice reduced their arrears to a single point during an exciting second-half that ebbed back and forth.
Down scored four points in a row between the 67th and 73rd minutes and with just one point in it at that stage, extra-time seemed a real possibility.
But Jack Sheridan’s converted 65 for Kildare left two in it again and the same man struck the insurance score deep into stoppage time to take his tally to 1-4 for the day.
Down lost Conor Woods to a 76th minute straight red card for an apparent interference with a faceguard.
There’s a silver lining for Ronan Sheehan’s Mourne men because both counties will still progress to the Joe McDonagh Cup competition next season.
Kildare had the easier route to the final with a comprehensive semi-final defeat of Roscommon, compared to Down’s dramatic win over tournament favourites Offaly on penalties, and they looked to be the fresher team initially with a series of slick scores.
The Leinster outfit led 1-3 to 0-1 with just six minutes on the clock, Tadhg Forde the goalscorer with a poacher’s finish after Sheridan’s shot was only parried by the Down ‘keeper.
David Slattery, Paul Divilly and Bryan Byrne were also on the mark with scores for Kildare who looked poised to put serious daylight between the teams in the subsequent minutes.
But they didn’t score again until the 20th minute and didn’t register another score from open play until James Burke pointed in the 29th minute.
Down were back on level terms following five points in a row, a mini-blitzkrieg that was lit up by the 13th minute Pearse Og McCrickard point from a sideline cut beneath the Hogan Stand.
The sides were level twice more approaching half-time and looked set to head into the interval deadlocked at 1-7 to 0-10.
But Divilly’s stoppage time goal for Kildare, when he seized possession in a central position and raced clear of Caolan Taggart and John McManus before striking across the goalkeeper, elevated them three clear again.
Down pulled back two points after the restart but Kildare responded with 1-2 and it appeared a decisive burst as they led by six points and appeared to have wrestled back the momentum.
Sheridan scored 1-1 for Kildare during that period to nudge them 3-9 to 0-12 clear.
Again, Down refused to relent and fought right back, this time getting to within a point of Kildare with 15 minutes to go.
McManus and McCrickard lifted their team’s spirits with excellent scores and it was anyone’s game approaching the closing minutes.
Kildare did just enough to claim the spoils, opening up a five-point lead with scores from James Burke, Byrne, Sheridan and sub Shane Ryan and while Down rallied late on and put up a brave fight, Kildare just about held on for their third title.
Scorers for Kildare: Jack Sheridan 1-4 (3fs, 165), Brian Byrne 0-7 (6fs), Paul Divilly 1-1, Tadhg Forde 1-0, James Burke 0-2, David Slattery 0-1, Shane Ryan 0-1.
Scorers for Down: Oisin McManus 0-9 (6fs), Pearse Og McCrickard 0-4 (1 sideline), Tim Prenter 0-4, Paul Sheehan 0-2 (0-1f), Conor Woods 0-1 (1f), Donal Hughes 0-1, Daithi Sands 0-1.
KILDARE: Mark Doyle; Simon Leacy, John Doran, Cian Shanahan; Niall O Muineachain, Rian Boran, Kevin Whelan; Cathal Dowling, Paul Divilly; Brian Byrne, James Burke, Conor Dowling; Tadhg Forde, Jack Sheridan, David Slattery.
Subs: Sean Christanseen for Shanahan 43, Shane Ryan for Conor Dowling 52, Kevin Aherne for Forde 54, Cathal McCabe for Slattery 69.
DOWN: Stephen Keith; Michael Hughes, Caolan Taggart, Tom Murray; Barry Trainor, Conor Woods, Liam Savage; Matt Conlon, John McManus; Donal Hughes, Pearse Og McCrickard, Tim Prenter; Oisin McManus, Eoghan Sands, Daithi Sands.
Subs: Gerard Hughes for Trainor 27, Phelim Savage for M Hughes h/t, Chris Egan for D Hughes 54, Paul Sheehan for McManus 54, Ryan McCusker for McCrickard 67.
REFEREE: Chris Mooney (Dublin).
Report by GAA.ie
Photos by: Inpho, Sportsfile & GPA