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Gaelic Football: Bank of Ireland Leinster semi-final replay - Potent Lilywhites are far too strong for punch-drunk Offaly; Kildare 0-17 Offaly 2-8.

GEORGE Best may not be the only Irish sporting hero to fall off the wagon in July. Best snapped after 18 weeks on the dry, and nobody could blame Mick O'Dwyer if he decided to wet his lips after 60 teetotal years.

The twentieth century's most successful manager has reason to celebrate the start of the 21st. Crack open the champers, stick on a fresh barrel of porter...Kildare have found their shooting boots.

Yesterday, the team caricatured as being as inaccurate as a fake Rolex in front of goal, behaved like the most expensive Swiss quartz. Kildare were precision personifed.

And it was wonderful to watch.

O'Dwyer stuck to the soda water and lime after climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand as an All-Ireland winning player.

Eight times as a manager, he led his native Kerry to the Sam Maguire. Yet he never drank anything stronger than a cup of hot chocolate from the most famous piece of silverware in the land.

But Kildare, (a team who can be as wayward when confronted with the posts as their fan, Charlie McCreevey is when confronted with a vacant bank job) kicking 17 points in a glorious attacking display?

Jeez Micko, you owe it to yourself to have a few small ones.

This must be the morning to wake to a Tequila sunrise. Only then will you understand the hangover Offaly are suffering right now.

And one which Dublin could endure after the Bank of Ireland Leinster final on Sunday week - if the Lilywhites radar continues to function this impressively.

If Kildare reproduce the breathtaking 25 minutes of brilliance which flattened their neighbours yesterday, then even Kerry, Galway and Derry would be wasting their time coming to Croke Park.

Want an idea of their domination, of the effortless ease with which their ocean of posession flooded through the Offaly defence and turned into a dam-burst of scores? Then consider this.

From the 30th to the 62nd minute, Kildare scored 12 points without reply. They had ten attempts at scores in the third quarter before Offaly could even escape their own half.

In that period, they played at the speed of light. Their football was bordering on the perfection which used to have drooling ice-dancing judges awarding Torvill and Dean maximum points.

If Britain's Queen Mum had spent every day of her 100 years watching gaelic football, she could hardly have seen such sustained excellence from one team. It really was that good.

The Eddie McCormack 1998 vintage was uncorked and four points flowed.

Tadhg Fenin, John Doyle, Dermot Earley and Martin Lynch cut thought the Offaly defence like an ear-ring piercing flesh.

And then there was Padraig Brennan.

The Sarsfields forward celebrated his first start for the Lilywhites by kicking nine points, four of them from play.

His trickery, daring and number 13 shirt must have convinced Micko that Mikey Sheehy had landed in Croke in a time capsule.

Brennan is a newly commisioned army officer. If he can make as big an impression in the Curragh as he did on Hill 16, then Mary McAleese's time as Head of the Defence Forces may be running out!

"We always knew what the value of Padraig Brennan," beamed O'Dwyer afterwards.

"But he has been injured right through the year and he has just been commisioned as an army officer."

The previous night's pounds 5m winning Lotto ticket could hardly have been worth more to O'Dwyer yesterday.

It is just over a month since Kildare blazed 20 wides against Louth.

Even in the drawn game against Offaly, they looked like a team that could spend a fortnight in Manhattan and miss the Twin Towers.

Nobody has ever questioned their capacity to win ball or to weave pretty patterns. Kildare could always strut like cocky gunslingers. The problem arose when they started firing bullets.

But, yesterday, it all came right in the most spectacular fashion imaginable.

It may now be lost in the haze of Lilywhite brilliance, but Offaly actually controlled the first 27 minutes.

Colm Quinn and Ciaran McManus each stole in behind the defence to rifle virtually identical shots past Christy Byrne.

With Ronan Mooney, James Grennan and McManus giving them the midfield platform they had been denied in the drawn game, the Midlanders actually led by six points approaching half time.

Then the men in white shirts began to behave in a fashion that suggested Mount Olympus is a long lost parish of Kildare.

For the next half an hour, Micko's men performed like gods.

In an instant, Offaly were gone. Helpless. Like somebody handed a golf club for the first time and asked to shoot a lower score than his playing partner. And their partner is some guy called Tiger.

Everything Kildare attempted worked like a well rehearsed plan.

Martin Lynch and Ronan Sweeney switched positions. Both adapted instantly. Lynch was the pefect target man, Sweeney rampaged forward from midfield to deadly effect.

Brian Lacey and Glen Ryan galloped out from defence, a blur of white light.

Earley began to pluck the ball from the clouds. McCormack and Brennan sent it back in that direction - via the Offaly posts.

Fifteen minutes of the second half had elapsed before Offaly managed a shot.

A remarkable 27 had passed before McManus presented them with their first point of this period.

Even referee Brendan Gorman was struggling to keep up. Twice the Armagh official (whose common sense approach contributed to the most free-flowing game of the summer) required treatment for cramp.

Offaly must have been just as jaded. But they kept going.

Kildare had swatted their opponents for 30 relenteless minutes. But typically, the Tricolours refused to die.

Sean Grennan quickly doubled their second half tally - and now they were within three.

Memories of the drawn game and the Donie Ryan buzzer beating goal which earned Offaly an improbable replay were suddenly being replayed in the brains of the 37,104 paying punters.

Kildare fans began to chew their nails.

They almost choked on them when Bernard O'Brien flashed a shot towards Christy Byrne's net.

The keeper responded with a magnificent save.

McCormack restored Kildare's four point lead and the sighs of relief could be heard back in Naas.

Not even Colm Quinn's late closing score could alter the script.

This, emphatically, was the Lilywhites' day.

They shot the lights out at Croker.

Nobody would blame Micko if he chose to shoot the breeze last night.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Padraig Brennan (Kildare): A dazzling debut saw him kick nine points to tear the heart out of Offaly and send the Lilywhites back to the Leinster final.

MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Brennan's 44th minute point which brought Kildare level.

Collecting the ball from Martin Lynch, he sold the perfect dummy to leave his marker chasing a shadow, then flicked a wonderful point between the posts.

KILDARE SCORERS: P. Brennan ((0-9, 5 frees), E. McCormack (0-4), M. Lynch, D. Earley, J. Doyle, T. Fenin (0-1 each).

OFFALY SCORERS: C. Quinn (1-3, 2 frees), C.. McManus (1-2, 1 free), V. Claffey (0-2), S. Grennan (0-1)

KILDARE TEAM: C. Byrne; K. Doyle, R. Quinn, B. Lacey; J. Finn (D. Hughes, 27), G. Ryan, A. Rainbow; M. Lynch (B. Murphy, 67), D. Earley; E. McCormack, J. Doyle, W. McCreery; P. Brennan, R. Sweeney, T. Fenin.

OFFALY TEAM: P. Kelly; C. Daly, B. Malone, J. Brady; F. Cullan, S. Grennan, D. Foley (K. Slattery, 56); J. Grennan (D. Connolly, 64) R. Mooney; B. Mooney , M. Keenaghan (D. Ryan, 60), C. McManus; C. Quinn, R. Malone (B. O'Brien, 50), V. Claffey.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Curtis, Roy
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 17, 2000
Words:1263
Previous Article:GAELIC FOOTBALL: MICKO SALUTES YOUNG SHARPSHOOTERS.
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