An inspired Kildare side put UCD’s footballers to the sword in the semi-final of the O’Byrne cup to book their place in the final for the fourth consecutive year. The champions cruised to victory in the second half to win by a margin of 15 points. Jason Ryan was fully aware of the challenge the students posed as he suffered defeat with Wexford this time last year. Kildare will now face Meath in the final.

The game started at a blistering pace with three quick Kildare points from Fogarty, ailment Brophy and O’Flaherty.  UCD’s All-Ireland winner Paul Mannion pointed a free. Captain John Heslin scored the opening goal inside 10 minutes to give the students the lead after great interconnecting play between Hughes, unhealthy Basquel and Heslin.

Kildare’s response was quick. The inter-county laden student team continued to compete but the excellent man of the match performance from Kildare’s Padraig Fogarty divided the sides at half time. The home side showed a desired to win and a mental toughness that seemed to be lacking under the previous manager.

Speaking after the match Ryan also applauded Fogarty’s performance “He’s a talented young man. He’s worked incredibly hard with Barry Solan and Alan Kenny and the other strength and conditioning guys to drop a little bit of excess baggage and he’s moving really, really well.”

The Mannion, McCaffrey and Heslin combination kept the students in touch and posed the home side a defensive nightmare, with all three looking dangerous in possession. The gap between the sides narrowed to the minimum as UCD stemmed the flow of points conceded. Man of the match Fogarty popped up with his second goal of the half. O’Flaherty’s shot from distance bounced back into play off the upright before Moolick set up Fogarty to slot home.

The second half didn’t match the pace of the first half and UCD’s presence in the game became weary. Kildare’s defensive combination of Foley, Bolton and Hyland were outstanding as they came to terms with the Mannion factor.

The UCD outfit made three second half changes but this did not address the Fogarty problem. Early points from White, Fogarty and Mulhall gave the Lilly Whites a 7 point advantage. UCD did however respond with a trio of points from Heslin, Hughes and Downey, but once again Ryan’s side were quick to respond with a Cribben point drawing the gap to 6 with quarter of an hour remaining. The gulf between the two sides was widened further when Fogarty scored his hat-trick in the 56 minute to guarantee his side a safe passage to the final. UCD managed to respond with a pointed free but at this stage Kildare had emptied their bench and had one eye focused firmly on their up-coming clash with Meath.

As the pressure eased on the Kildare forwards their wide tally began to grow but under the guidance of Ryan they are becoming increasingly like All-Ireland contenders with a physical ability that could match and county team.  Ryan views the O’Byrne cup as an opportunity to strengthen and develop his squad for the up-coming season his admiration of the UCD set-up was clear and he was fully aware of the threat they posed to his unbeaten tenure.

“UCD are very athletic and are a team that have played since September so they were sharp. The games have been getting a little bit more difficult as we’re going along. You know it’s going to be a tough game so it’s ideal preparation (for the league),” remarked Ryan.

“The O’Byrne cup is all about trying to find out more about the players, how they deal with hard work, instructions and teammates. The decisions they make on the field are really important, players have to be able to deal with pressure. We need to be mentally tough. In previous years some players didn’t give their all and floated around till the next year. We have a group that works for each other with a never say die attitude.”

UCD: E. Keogh; A. English, L. Connerton (0-1), R. Tierney; C. Lenehan, P. O’Harnan, J. McCaffrey (0-1), B. Fenton (0-1), J. Heslin (1-5, 2f); P. Reilly, M. O’Hanlon, A. O’Murchu; R. Basquel (1-0), M. Hughes (0-1), P. Mannion (0-1)

Subs: S. McEntee (for Connerton), C. Downey (0-1 for O’Hanlon), P. Kingston (for O’Murchu), R. Bergin (for Basquel), S. Cadden (for Reilly)

Seán O'Reilly