It felt more like a summer’s afternoon rather than a day in late March and today at Páirc Seán MacDiarmada in Carrick-on-Shannon the play was fast and furious, with our lads coming out on top in a high-scoring Round 7 encounter. Our 2-20 to 0-18 win over Kildare relegated the Leinster county – who will be accompanied in the drop by Dublin – but it sends us back to the final for the first time since 2019, where, like then, Kerry will provide the opposition.
It was all change for us ahead of throw-in at a sunwashed Páirc Seán this afternoon. We made five changes before throw-in, with Padraig O’Hora, Stephen Coen, Conor Loftus, Fergal Boland and Aiden Orme all not starting. In their place, Brendan Harrison, Rory Brickenden, Michael Plunkett, Diarmuid O’Connor and James Carr all lined out from the start.
There was another significant change for us too, this time on the line where James Horan was a notable absentee, reportedly due to a family Confirmation. In his place, Ciaran McDonald and James Burke seemed to be doing a two-hander at the controls.
The scores came thick and fast right from the off. Kildare, who’d shot the proverbial lights out against Monaghan last week, were full of fast running and confident shooting in that first half, missing the target only twice. We were a bit looser, both with our passing and our shooting, but we were able to find holes in their backline and our first goal, scored by Ryan O’Donoghue, yet again in awesome form for us today, was tangible proof of that.
There was a stoppage after just two minutes when Brendan Harrison went down after a tussle for possession. He was stretchered from the field, in obvious distress, and although there’s no word yet on how bad the injury is, it looked serious. Having been out for so long, it was desperately sad to see the Aghamore player being taken from the field in this way, to say nothing of the litany of injuries that continue to mount for us.
We swapped points with them early on, Ryan bagging his first score and then Jason Doherty belting over after James Carr missed a gilt-edged goal chance created by Ryan with his quick brain and equally quick hands. Jason had himself missed an equally good goal chance earlier, also created by a super Ryan pass.
They hit back with high quality scores from Cribbin and Kirwan before James Carr fetched what could have been a mark and blasted over. The next one in he did mark and the point he got from it put us three in front.
Jason Doherty then bagged his second of the day, this one a lovely curler off the left, once again fed by Ryan. They got the next two scores, following which Ryan, from a mark, got us going again. He then went off, with Kevin McLoughlin coming on as a blood sub but the Knockmore man stayed on when Ryan reappeared a few minutes later as instead Diarmuid O’Connor left the fray, with what seemed to be hamstring trouble.
Kildare got the next three scores, edging briefly back in front. When we levelled the game the score came from an unlikely source, with Padraig O’Hora raiding forward and shooting over. Points from Ryan, Matthew Ruane and Jack Carney – whose influence grew impressively as the game wore on – pushed us three clear but they grabbed the last two scores of the half to leave just one between the sides.
We made one switch for the second half, Enda Hession coming on for David McBrien. We opened the scoring on the resumption, when Jason, following great work by Ryan, thumped it over.
After their ‘keeper Donnellan landed a long-range free, Swanny sauntered forward a second time, selling an outrageous dummy on this occasion before gleefully banging it over.
Scores were then traded rapidly. Jordan Flynn – who had a great game for us today – boomed one over from distance, Kirwan responded for them and then Michael Plunkett landed a super score from out the right wing.
Two frees for them cut the gap back to one but just as the game seemed to be coming to the boil we struck for a second, decisive goal.
Ryan was, inevitably, in the thick of it, his quick turn unlocking the defence but there was great work too by Jack Carney who carried the ball right at them, while Jordan Flynn’s finish was unerring.
We never looked back from there. Kildare’s shooting, so precise in the first half, now became ever more wayward and their attempts to prise open our backline as they hunted for a goal never looked likely to succeed.
We added three points on the spin to push six clear. Jason fed by Ryan – what great inter-play these two did today – for the first, Jack Carney wisely punched over for the second and then Jason, from yet another Ryan assist, added the third on the trot for us.
After Kildare pulled one back, we closed the game out with three more points. These came from Jack Carney, after a super burst by the indefatigable Lee Keegan, Jordan Flynn (after we’d missed another good goal chance) and, with the last kick of the game, Michael Plunkett.
So after today’s fun in the sun our sights are once more trained on Croke Park, the place we best like to play in, for yet another national decider. While so much of our focus will now be on Galway four weeks from now, we’ve just earned a spot in a national title decider and so we should be aiming for no less than a win next Sunday.
It’s been, on the whole, a very positive League campaign for us this spring. While what happens next weekend won’t alter the dial hugely, in light of the increasing focus on the Championship from here on, it gives us another day out at Croke Park, in which we’ll get another chance to test ourselves against the best. After today’s largely trouble-free win, we’ll definitely head into the final next weekend in high spirits.
Mayo: Rory Byrne; Lee Keegan, David McBrien, Brendan Harrison; Oisín Mullin, Aidan O’Shea, Rory Brickenden; Jordan Flynn (1-2), Matthew Ruane (0-1); Michael Plunkett (0-2), Jack Carney (0-3), Diarmuid O’Connor; James Carr (0-2, one mark), Jason Doherty (0-5), Ryan O’Donoghue (1-3, one free and one mark). Subs: Padraig O’Hora (0-2), for Harrison, Kevin McLoughlin for O’Donoghue (blood) and for O’Connor, Enda Hession for McBrien, Aiden Orme for Carr, Stephen Coen for Doherty.
Who was our MOTM against Kildare? Pick your top three performers
- Ryan O'Donoghue (29%, 904 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (18%, 562 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (18%, 548 Votes)
- Jack Carney (8%, 261 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (5%, 145 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (3%, 99 Votes)
- Oisín Mullin (3%, 82 Votes)
- James Carr (2%, 77 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (2%, 74 Votes)
- Rory Brickenden (2%, 71 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (2%, 69 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (2%, 50 Votes)
- Rory Byrne (1%, 27 Votes)
- David McBrien (1%, 26 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 24 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (1%, 20 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (0%, 15 Votes)
- Aiden Orme (0%, 14 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (0%, 11 Votes)
- Enda Hession (0%, 10 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,521