Late penalty snatches promotion from footballers

If you like sporting drama, then Pearse Stadium was the place to be last Sunday afternoon.

With the clock running deep into injury time, the Galway footballers led by three points and were on the cusp of a league final date with Tyrone at Croke Park, and a place in division one next season. Then they coughed up the goal-scoring opportunity Kildare desperately needed.

Three minutes of injury time had been announced, and that had elapsed when Kildare won a relatively soft penalty.

Kieran McGrath, who had just produced 73 minutes of terrific defending, got caught on the wrong side of his man for a break from a high ball which had been lofted into the square by Johnny Doyle from a free. A subsequent soft tug on the Kildare player in possession saw referee Eddie Kinsella correctly spread his arms to signal a penalty.

The score was Galway 0-18 to Kildare’s 1-12 at that stage, but Lillywhite captain Johnny Doyle slotted home the three-pointer with aplomb, giving the impressive Adrian Faherty no chance, and Kildare were home and hosed - and back in division one for the first time since 2008.

All they needed for promotion last Sunday was a draw and they snatched it.

The Galway players will be kicking themselves for conceding that late penalty. They had chances to clear the ball up to their forwards, and it was a Galway error that led to the concession of the free in the build-up to the penalty.

Second-half improvement

Galway were under the cosh in the first half and Kildare led by four points at half time. To be honest, they looked the superior outfit and very few at the ground fancied anything except a Kildare victory at the interval. They had the wind at their back in the second half and they were winning the vast majority of breaking ball and looked the better team.

However to their credit Galway came out and produced a top-class second-half performance which saw them lead by four points with six minutes left to play. Joe Bergin, Gary Sice, Gareth Bradshaw, Kieran McGrath, Paul Conroy and the introduced Padraig Joyce were all to the fore in turning the tide Galway's way.

Galway team manager Alan Mulholland put his side’s vastly improved second-half performance down to an attitude shift more than a tactical change.

“We played really well in the second-half. We improved our attitude and upped our work-rate and got ourselves into a great position. We played good controlled football and got more bodies around the middle. We are very proud of the lads and how they performed, but it was a very disappointing way to finish.

“It is hard to take. We were one kick away from division one and we could have, and should have, won the game. Going up to Croke Park would have been nice and an opportunity to take on Tyrone.”

Mulholland, though, is already looking ahead to their first championship fixture in six weeks’ time.

“It has been a positive league as a whole and we will move on from last weekend. Our focus turns exclusively to the championship now and Roscommon in Hyde Park on May 20.”

His opposite number in the Kildare manager’s bib, former Armagh star Kieran McGeeney, has a big championship ahead in Leinster too and he was not overly-excited about his side’s promotion to division one next season.

"I know there are a couple of managers who think you have to be in division one to push on. I'm not so sure. When you take the top three teams out of it, the others are all around the same sort of level."

Galway: A Faherty (0-2, 2 '45s' ), C Forde, F Hanley (Cpt ), K McGrath, G Bradshaw (0-1 ), D Blake, G O'Donnell, J Bergin, G Higgins (0-1 ), G Sice (0-2 ), D Burke (0-1 ), N Joyce, M Martin (0-1, 1f ), P Conroy (0-3 ), M Hehir (0-3, 2fs ). Subs: T Flynn for Martin (ht ), K Kelly for Forde (h-t ), P Joyce (0-3, 1f ) for Hehir (51 ), D Cummins (0-1 ) for N Joyce (54 ), N Coleman for Higgins (69 ).

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