Exiles see off Lilywhites in relegation shootout

Exiles Lilywhites relegation shootout
London’s Conor Hickey in action against Kildare. Photo: Sheila Fernandes

Allianz NHL Div 2A Rnd 5

London 1-19
Kildare 0-15

By Damian Dolan
At McGovern Park, Ruislip

London produced a result and performance to match on Saturday to not only preserve their Division 2A status, but to carry with them into the Christy Ring in May.

The Exiles were thoroughly deserving of their victory over the Lilywhites, which condemned Joe Quaid’s charges to a return to Division 2B, three years after gaining promotion.

For London, the victory saw them retain their Division 2A status, five years after winning Division 2B, and should set them up for a crack at the championship.

As anticipated from the very outset, London’s league survival came down to round five and the visit of Kildare – the only other Division 2A side hurling in the Christy Ring – and so it proved.

Fergus McMahon’s charges had four rounds to gel together as a panel and get up to speed in preparation for Saturday, while taking a couple of hammerings along the way. Going by their display in the opening 35 minutes they judged it just right.

Exiles Lilywhites relegation shootout
Martin Duggan holds off his man. Photo: Sheila Fernandes

Given the stakes, one might have expected the opening exchanges to have been edgy. Not a bit of it. Both sides went for each other from the first whistle. Neither was going to die wondering.

Unlike in their previous outings this year, London opted to play with a three-man full forward line pushed high up the field, and it paid dividends as Daryl Roberts, Colin Nelson and Kevin O’Loughlin exerted considerable pressure on the Kildare backline.

London had first use of a slight breeze at Ruislip, but Mark Delaney might have struck an early blow for the visitors only for Brian Regan’s block, which saved a goal. Just how much the London skipper knew about it is open to question.

Six minutes later the Exiles made sure their captain’s bravery wasn’t wasted. James Barrett’s free caused havoc in the Kildare square and although Martin Duggan had a swing and missed, Nelson was following up to fire to the net from close range.

We’d played 13 minutes and the home side led by 1-3 to 0-1. Roberts tagged on a score and the Exiles could be well pleased with their start.

Exiles Lilywhites relegation shootout
Richie Murphy finished with 11 points. Photo: Sheila Fernandes

But the excellent Martin Fitzgerald picked out Kevin Whelan in acres of space to point, and scores from James Burke (two frees) and Fitzgerald (free) followed as the visitors responded well.

London hit back through man of the match Kevin Reid, with Roberts then setting up Murphy. Murphy added another after a loose ball from Mark Grace led to Owen Sheil being fouled.

A super score from Sheil and a Murphy free extended the London lead to seven. Conor Hickey’s run eventually led to a ’45 which Murphy despatched and the home side led 1-10 to 0-5 after 29 minutes.

London were simply sharper in mind and deed, and oozed confidence as the half progressed.

When Henry Vaughan fired over a super score in added time the London lead hit ten points. Chris Bonus’ late strike ensured Kildare went in at the break trailing by 1-13 to 0-7.

Exiles Lilywhites relegation shootout
Photo: Sheila Fernandes

It looked as if the home side would cruise to the finishing line when Nelson fired over inside the opening minute from distance – a statement of intent if ever there was one. Martin Duggan then turned John Doran only to be fouled and Murphy did the rest.

The margin was now up to 11 points – the highest it would be in the match.

But Kildare were far from done, and James Burke started the fight back knocking over two points (one from a free).

A lovely move then resulted in Delaney pointing and it was suddenly all change. Martin Fitzgerald and Brian Byrne were getting a grip of midfield with Kildare beginning to utilise the breeze which was now at their backs.

James Burke was starting to dictate, and London boss Fergus McMahon responded by switching Cork star Killian Burke to marshal the Naas man.

Kildare had wrestled the ascendancy away from the home side, but seven second half wides would not help their cause.

Exiles Lilywhites relegation shootout
London’s Henry Vaughan. Photo: Sheila Fernandes

However, if they were to make serious inroads into London’s lead they really needed a goal, but Kildare never looked like fashioning one and Barrett remained untroubled.

If the Exiles were guilty of sitting back and adopting a ‘what we have we hold attitude’ then Murphy’s frees kept the scoreboard ticking over just about enough in the second half to keep the Lilywhites at arm’s length.

Quaid’s side kept going, but ultimately they couldn’t get closer than to within seven points, and the home side were comfortably able to see the game out.

Scorers: London – R Murphy 0-11 (0-7f, 2 ’65); C Nelson 1-1; K Reid, O Sheil, D Roberts, H Vaughan, C McAlinden, S Lawless, K Burke 0-1. Kildare – J Burke 0-6 (0-4f); M Fitzgerald 0-3 (0-1f); M Delaney 0-2 (0-1f); K Whelan, B Byrne, E O’Neill, C Bonus 0-1.

London: James Barrett; Lee Murphy, Brian Regan, Conor Hickey; Chris McAlinden, Kevin Reid, Killian Burke, Alan O’Leary, Owen Sheil; Henry Vaughan, Richie Murphy, Martin Duggan; Daryl Roberts, Colin Nelson, Shane Lawless.

Subs: Michael Ivors for Lawless (50min), Kevin O’Loughlin for Duggan (55min), Aaron Sheehan for Nelson (55min), Alan Griffiths for Sheil (67min), Cian Lordan for Roberts (70min).

Kildare: Paul Dermody; Cian Forde, John Doran, Paul Sullivan; Niall O’Muineachain, Mark Moloney, Mark Grace; Martin Fitzgerald, Brian Byrne; James Burke, Paul Divilly, Kevin Whelan; Mark Delaney, Éanna O’Neill, Chris Bonus.

Subs: Diarmuid Cahill for Maloney (blood sub 20min), Maloney for Cahill (35min), Shane Ryan for Divilly (h-t), Jack Sheridan for Bonus (40min); Paddy McKenna for Dermody (51min); Cahill for O’Muineachain (56min); Cathal Dowling for Whelan (67min).

Referee: Rory McGann (Clare).

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