We never opt for the easy road. Facing a Kildare team who got hammered off the park last time out, the best and most straightforward approach for us would, one assumes, have been to bully them from the off. Instead, we let them set the terms for the contest and early in the second half it looked like we were going to pay the price for this.
My fear in advance was that Kildare would do as Galway did to us and this is what happened for two-thirds of the game. They sat deep, working incredibly hard to protect the D and breaking forward at pace. It was a simple plan but one that they knew we’d struggle with. Which we did. Again.
Eventually, though, it broke down as our switches finally jolted us into life and a moment of magic finally enabled us to breach their rearguard. At the finish we gave an almost passable impersonation of a team closing out an expected win.
The game’s first score didn’t come until the fourth minute. We got the scoreboard moving when Jack Carney clipped a neat one over from out on the left.
Kildare responded well, though, bagging the next four points. Our attacks ran into dead ends as a hungry and hard-working Lilywhite team defended in numbers and broke rapidly on the break.
They got their first one from play and then Hyland knocked over two close-in frees. We then left Kevin Feely totally unmarked in a good position fifty yards out and he drove it over from there.
Under pressure up the other end one of their players touched the ball on the ground. Cillian O’Connor pointed the free but that was all the Ballintubber player, looking well off the pace, contributed to an increasingly erratic first half from our perspective.
Jack Carney dragged the ball wide after that score and Paddy Durcan then undercooked an effort at the posts after we’d won the restart.
Kildare weren’t doing much better up the other end. Their ‘keeper was off target from a 45’ and they missed another chance soon after.
Jack had another go at the posts for us, this time with the outside of the boot but this one screwed well wide too.
Kildare finally got motoring again when their rotating forward line dragged us out of shape leaving O’Callaghan completely unmarked on the D and he shot over.
As happened the last day against Monaghan, it took Lee Keegan to get us moving. He got on the end of a rare, swift move by us and drove it over. Just after that we made our first switch, with Fergal Boland replacing Jason Doherty after just 28 minutes.
Flynn caught a super mark inside but was fouled and Hyland popped over the resultant free. O’Callaghan, once more left in acres of space, knocked over Kildare’s next one to push them four clear.
Eoghan McLaughlin rifled over a good score from out the left wing but the same player, as he’d done in Castlebar last week, failed to make the most of a goal chance soon after, with ‘keeper O’Neill deflecting it over.
We had a chance to cut the gap to one but once again got turned over. Instead Kildare broke, won a free up the other end and Hyland increased their lead to three at half-time.
We looked to be in major bother then. Kildare, as expected, were implementing the How to Beat Mayo playbook and this, combined with a strange amount of listlessness on our part, had pushed the Llilywhites into what was starting to look like a possible match-winning position.
Within six minutes of the restart, possible was looking like probable. They’d doubled their lead to six and we were flailing badly. All they needed then was the knockout blow.
In truth, it seemed they might not even require that. Sinking their whole team back behind the ball, they let us handpass it around until Diarmuid O’Connor tried a hopeful effort from out on the right which went wide. We looked totally goosed then.
But, as they say, the darkest moment comes before the light. We won the restart, the ball was eventually played to Fergal Boland who fired it over. Darren McHale then joined the fray in place of James Carr.
They then had a good goal chance. Flynn could, in truth, have taken a point at his ease but went for the major. He pulled the trigger but Enda Hession dived to pull off what was in all probability a match-saving block.
Cillian, after a neat 1-2, banged over the next score. Then, with Padraig O’Hora on for Stephen Coen, Conor Loftus found his range from out on the right and the gap was back to three.
They got the next one but you could sense the momentum had shifted in our favour. Lee, raiding forward as of old almost tapped it over off his left from over thirty yards out. Four minutes later, Diarmuid, with an assist from the increasingly influential Fergal Boland, cut the gap to two.
Kildare were rattled now. As well as that the huge work they’d put in was now visibly taking its toll as they began to wilt under our resurgent pressure.
Hyland gave them some respite from a free and then Paddy shot a bad wide. Hyland had a chance to increase the gap to four with another free but he pulled this one to the nearside of the post. Just then Jordan Flynn came on for Aidan.
Kildare were still defending in numbers and we were still having trouble breaking them down. Then, in a move he started and finished himself, Oisín Mullin brilliantly unlocked their rearguard. He’d run forward at pace but looked to be running out of road when he managed to get a pass off to Padraig O’Hora who promptly returned it to him. The Kilmaine player wellied it crisply to the net.
Now it was all us. We were winning breaking ball everywhere and back we came looking for the scores that would seal the win. Fergal was the first to sink the knife, firing from distance as we all know he can to push us ahead for only the second time in the evening.
Their full-back Ryan punched over at the other end to level the match once more. That, however, proved to be their final score of the game.
Lee had a go but this time the ball flew wide. But, with the high press on, they messed up the restart and Cillian profited from it to edge us back in front.
They coughed up the ball again from the next kick-out and this time we were happy to hold possession as they defended like demons. We hand-passed it around patiently until eventually a shooting chance opened up on the right wing for Darren McHale who clipped it over. Now, at last, we looked the likely winners.
Injury time was a messy affair. They were doing what they could to get the ball up the field, we were doing what we could to stop the play proceeding by whatever means we could.
They tried to work a goal-scoring chance but we managed to turn the ball over. Then as we broke forward Jordan Flynn spotted that the Kildare goalie was still off his line so he lobbed him and into the net it went to seal an improbable five-point win for us.
This was, of course, a harum-scarum performance, one in which we could easily have come off second best. But for what was a totally dominant final quarter, we’d definitely have been beaten and it goes without saying that the five-point victory margin flattered us more than a little.
There was a hint, though, in the effectiveness of the switches we made that we might be edging towards a team selection that would give us a better chance of success. This, combined with Ryan O’Donoghue’s likely return to action in the quarters, give us at least some hope for optimism for the summer.
The bottom line, the heart-stopping nature of our win this evening notwithstanding, is that we’re still alive in this year’s Championship. How far we’ll go is anyone’s guess and tonight’s mercurial display will leave plenty guessing about us, not least whoever it is we pull in Monday morning’s quarter-final draw.
Mayo: Rob Hennelly; Lee Keegan (0-2), Oisín Mullin (1-0), Enda Hession; Paddy Durcan, Stephen Coen, Eoghan McLaughlin (0-2); Aidan O’Shea, Matthew Ruane; Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1), Jason Doherty, Conor Loftus (0-1); James Carr, Jack Carney (0-1), Cillian O’Connor (0-3, one free). Subs: Fergal Boland (0-2) for Doherty, Darren McHale (0-1) for Carr, Padraig O’Hora for Coen, Jordan Flynn (1-0) for O’Shea, Aiden Orme for Carney.
Who was our MOTM against Kildare? Pick your top three performers
- Lee Keegan (31%, 1,048 Votes)
- Oisín Mullin (25%, 839 Votes)
- Enda Hession (14%, 479 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (9%, 324 Votes)
- Eoghan McLaughlin (6%, 201 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (2%, 70 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (2%, 68 Votes)
- Jack Carney (2%, 68 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (2%, 61 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (1%, 48 Votes)
- Darren McHale (1%, 36 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (1%, 32 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (1%, 28 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (1%, 25 Votes)
- Rob Hennelly (1%, 18 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (0%, 17 Votes)
- James Carr (0%, 14 Votes)
- Aiden Orme (0%, 13 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 12 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (0%, 10 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,662