Kildare overpowered Meath 2-16 to 0-13 at O’Connor Park, Tullamore, to reach a long overdue first Leinster final since 2009.
The Lilywhites will await the winners of Dublin and Westmeath in the final at Croke Park on 16 Jul, with the Dubs chasing s seventh consecutive Leinster title.
Kildare, who have to go back to 2000 for the last time they ruled Leinster, were given a flying start by Cathal McNally, whose 1-3 virtually wrapped up victory for Cian O’Neill’s side by half time.
For O’Neill, next month’s Leinster final appearance is a long overdue for the Lilywhites.
“That’s just not good enough; that’s not good enough for a county like Kildare that prides itself on its football,” he said.
“I was part of that last year because I managed a team that didn’t get there last year either when we should have.
“So it’s great that we are back there. And everyone from players, backroom, county board, Club Kildare deserves credit because a lot of work goes in behind the scenes to make today happen.”
Kildare led 1-10 to 0-4 at the break and although Meath responded with four points in a row after the restart to hint at a revival, the comeback never materialised with the Royal County unable to make any sustained inroads in the deficit.
It what was a disappointing showing by Andy McEntee’s men, while Daniel Flynn’s 68th minute goal saw him finish with a tally of 1-4.
Kildare, who secured promotion to Division 1 despite losing out to Galway in the Division 2 final by two points, hammered Laois by 14 points in the quarter-finals and will head to Croke Park with nothing to lose against the reigning All Ireland champions.
Quite a turnaround in 12 months for Kildare who, under O’Neill, were edged out of Leinster by Westmeath in the semi-finals, before meekly surrendering to Mayo in round 3 of the qualifiers by a revealing nine points.
“We really were disappointed last year. We let ourselves down. But in fairness to the boys, everything was different about this year,” said O’Neill.
“From the very, very start. They followed up a good performance against Laois with a great performance today. But that’s all it was.
“Obviously, there’s a big, big match coming down the road in four weeks time. And if that performance isn’t upped another two or threefold we’ll find ourselves wanting again.
“We’d a really good League, They brought it into Laois. Freak results don’t happen too often. For me this was just a lot of hard work and they’ve got the juice.”
Scorers for Kildare: Daniel Flynn 1-4, Cathal McNally 1-3, Kevin Feely 0-5 (0-4f), Paddy Brophy 0-2, Eamonn Callaghan 0-1, Neil Flynn 0-1 (0-1f).
Scorers for Meath: Donal Lenihan 0-5 (0-2f), Ruairi O Coileain 0-3, Bryan Menton 0-2, James Toher 0-1, Shane McEntee 0-1, Mickey Burke 0-1.
KILDARE: Mark Donnellan; Mick O’Grady, Ollie Lyons, David Hyland; Keith Cribbin, Eoin Doyle, Johnny Byrne; Kevin Feely, Tommy Moolick; Fergal Conway, Niall Kelly, David Slattery; Cathal McNally, Daniel Flynn, Paddy Brophy. Subs: Eamonn Callaghan for Brophy (49), Fionn Dowling for Moolick (59), Chris Healy for McNally (61), Peter Kelly for Hyland (65), Neil Flynn for Byrne (69), Emmet Bolton for Doyle (69).
MEATH: Paddy O’Rourke; Conor McGill, Donal Keogan, Donnacha Tobin; Pauric Harnan, Mickey Burke, Shane McEntee; Bryan Menton, Ronan Jones; James Toher, Cillian O’Sullivan, Eamon Wallace; Graham Reilly Bryan McMahon, Donal Lenihan. Subs: James McEntee for Toher (28), Ruairi O Coileain for Wallace (h/t), Brian Conlon for Jones (47), Tomas O’Reilly for McMahon (51), Sean Tobin for Reilly (56), Alan Douglas for O’Sullivan (69).