And we’ve no complaints either – Kildare fully deserved their 0-21 to 0-19 win over us at St Conleth’s Park this evening. We never took tonight’s game by the throat and this ultimately proved fatal to us when Kildare came at us with energy and not a small amount of confidence in the final quarter.
So, first up, fair play to them. They fully deserved the win and it’s a huge win for them. As well, of course, as a huge loss for us.
My boomerang route from Dublin to Newbridge via Connemara earlier today turned out to be an easy and fairly relaxed one. We left the home place before half-nine and less than seven hours later – which included a pleasant interlude over al fresco lunch at my most westerly point – I was parked up in the multi-story car-park at the Whitewater. I know I was musing yesterday about possible parking problems in Newbridge but, for my own part at least, it was a total breeze.
I’d picked up the trail of the Mayo match-going contingent when I came off the M6 at Kilbeggan and at Portarlington found myself in a queue of MO-registered cars snaking round a corner coming through the town. Just as we crossed into Kildare a bit outside Monasterevin I saw the first Mayo flag fluttering from a car and the Green and Red was in abundance everywhere in Newbridge as I strolled at my leisure up towards St Conleth’s Park.
The ground was almost empty – aside from the stand, where the seats were already taken – when we took up our position on the high terrace behind the goals, just under where the Sky Sports operation was situated. By the time throw-in came around, though, St Conleth’s Park was full but not overly so and while our crowd were in the majority we weren’t overwhelmingly so.
They got the start they wanted. After Stephen Coen opened our account they quickly hit back and with fifteen minutes played they were seven points to two to the good and growing in confidence.
We had the best of it, though, from then to half-time. Two Cillian O’Connor frees, a beautifully judged one that swung in on the wind by Paddy Durcan, another Cillian free, then another one from Paddy and another Cillian free put us in front. Little did we know it but that would turn out to be our best period in the game.
From then until half-time both sides had their moments, with a Niall Flynn free closing out the first half scoring to leave the contest tied at nine points each.
We looked comfortable enough then. We were in a contest, for sure, but not in any kind of dire predicament and I felt we definitely had it in ourselves to drive on and win.
Ten minutes into the second half, by which time we’d pushed two points clear, it looked as if the script was going along predictable lines. We were asking questions of them and it looked then like we could put some real daylight between us.
But back came the home team. A close-in free by Flynn followed by one from play after a turnover out the field brought them level.
We pushed on again, Jason Doherty coming nicely off the shoulder to fire over.
That was the final time we led tonight. Daniel Flynn boomed over the equaliser and then with ten minutes to go Feely put them in front.
Hopes that we had an extra gear ready to kick in were now starting to fade as instead it was an increasingly confident home team who upped the ante and went for us. They edged two in front but a ’45 from Cillian – a conversion that looked like a crucial score at the time – reduced the gap to one.
Then Eoin O’Donoghue smashed over a massive score from out the wing to level it up. Could we now kick for home?
But another Kildare point, secured following another turnover out the field, restored Kildare’s lead and a minute later Niall Kelly burst forward and took the right option by punching over.
Another huge point, this one from Paddy, reduced the gap once more to the minimum. As the exchanges got increasingly frantic with time running out it was Kildare who struck the final decisive blows, two further points giving them a three-point cushion deep in injury time.
We got the game’s final score, from a free by Andy, with what looked like the entire Kildare team stationed on their goal-line. They weren’t to be bested now and seconds later David Gough blew the final whistle, ending the game and ending too our involvement in the 2018 championship.
We’ve no complaints – how can we? Kildare were well up for this and I don’t think we were to the same degree. When push came to shove we didn’t have the energy or reserves within us to power on and get the result. We simply ran out of road.
So that’s it, our championship over before the end of June. It’s the first time we’ve failed to reach the All-Ireland semi-final since 2010 and the first time we’ve had our season ended so prematurely since the evening we lost to Longford.
In that sense, this loss feels – in its immediate aftermath – very much like the end of an era. This bunch of players have given us some incredible memories, ones that will always be treasured by all Mayo supporters, but tonight will surely mark the end of the road for some of those great warriors.
Tonight’s, though, not the night to speculate on that or on wider issues about where we go from here. We’ve lost, we’ve got to take it on the chin and, for all of us, start to make alternative plans for the rest of the summer.
Mayo: David Clarke; Chris Barrett, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Paddy Durcan (0-4); Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1), Stephen Coen (0-1); Kevin McLoughlin (0-1), Aidan O’Shea, James Durcan; Jason Doherty (0-2), Cillian O’Connor (0-6, five frees and a ’45), Andy Moran (0-3, one free). Subs: Eoin O’Donoghue (0-1) for Boyle, Donal Vaughan for James Durcan, Conor Loftus for Doherty, Cian Hanley for McLoughlin (black card).
Man of the Match poll:
Who was our MOTM against Kildare? Pick your top three performers.
- Diarmuid O'Connor (43%, 767 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (25%, 433 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (14%, 254 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (4%, 72 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (2%, 42 Votes)
- David Clarke (1%, 23 Votes)
- Cian Hanley (1%, 21 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (1%, 20 Votes)
- Ger Cafferkey (1%, 18 Votes)
- Andy Moran (1%, 17 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (1%, 16 Votes)
- James Durcan (1%, 14 Votes)
- Eoin O'Donoghue (1%, 14 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (1%, 13 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 12 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (1%, 9 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (0%, 8 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (0%, 8 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (0%, 6 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,121