Another day, another win over Kildare.
Unlike the Senior team at Croke Park yesterday, Mayo’s U17s were in control of this afternoon’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Kildare at O’Connor Park for much of the game. Indeed, they looked to be easing to a comfortable double-digit victory when their opponents took a leaf out of our book from yesterday, by throwing caution to the wind and pouring forward at every opportunity.
It was, though, too little, too late. Kildare did manage to cut the deficit down to four points but, in truth, we never looked in real danger of being overhauled and we got the final two points in injury time to win by 3-18 to 3-12.
The lads now go forward to the All-Ireland semi-final where, amazingly, they’re the only provincial champions left standing in a final four that includes Derry, Kerry and three-times beaten Galway who shocked Dublin in today’s other quarter-final at Tullamore.
Our lads’ semi-final will be against Kerry in a fortnight’s time. Double-header with the Kingdom then anyone?
We played against what appeared to be a stiff wind in the first half. We opted to run hard at them, which had their rearguard back-pedalling and created openings for us, but we also oddly chose to go long and high with all of our restarts, the majority of which they won, leading to plenty of scoring chances for them.
The result was an open, end-to-end half, at the conclusion of which we were four to the good. As it’s been for much of this U17 campaign, Niall Hurley and Ronan Clarke were once more to the fore in that opening half, with the former bagging two goals while the latter got the other one.
Niall’s first goal, blasted to the net after a super ball in by Cathal Keaveney put us back in front on ten minutes. Soon after we were four in front and it looked like we were starting to dominate.
In a flash, though, the game turned. Kildare hit us with 1-4 without reply to forge three ahead. During that spell we could hardly get out of our own half, as they gobbled up all of our restarts and kept coming at us.
Eventually, though, Ronan Clarke lifted the siege. He was fouled bursting through and converted the resultant free himself.
We then traded points with them before striking for two goals in under a minute. Niall Hurley showed great trickery and composure under pressure to retain possession and then feed Ronan Clarke who slid it to the net soccer style. Then they butchered a short restart and Niall Hurley was on hand to poke the ball home.
We led by four at the break and, with the strong wind now at our backs, the lads began to open it up and strike from distance. Some of our point-taking from out the field in that second half was very impressive and with five minutes to go it put us in an unassailable position.
Among the score-getters for us in that spell were the Hurley brothers (Niall with two absolute crackers), Ronan Clarke and Zac Collins. Pride of place, though, has to go to sub Oliver Armstrong who landed four absolute peaches, all of them from well out.
Eleven up with time running out, this game was over in every possible respect. Only Kildare didn’t agree with that conclusion.
They got a free a bit outside the 21 yard line which was lofted in and a Kildare hand met it to punch it to the net. They won the restart and poured forward again, with a shot for goal in the square adjudged to be a foot block. There was a delay of a few minutes as two of our players, including goalie David Dolan, were down injured but when he got up the Kildare man sent him the wrong way from the spot.
Now the gap was down to five points. Underage matches can swing wildly like this – we’ve all seen this happen – and now Kildare were full of confidence while our lads were visibly panicking.
As the game went into injury time they bagged a point from play to reduce the margin to four. But they were committing everything to attack now and got caught when we broke out, Niall Hurley bearing down on goal. I thought he might have gone for the killer blow but wisely settled for the point. A settling score it was too.
They scored one more point, from a free, soon after we’d survived a heart-stopping goalmouth scramble. But we had the final say on the scoreboard, with Niall Hurley (a mark) and Ronan Clarke (a free) closing out a well merited six-point win for us.
Mayo: David Dolan; Rio Mortimer, James MacMonagle, Lorcan Silke; Liam Maloney, Colm McHale, Paul Gilmore; Jack Keane, Luke Feeney (0-1); James Maheady (0-1), Dara Hurley (0-1), Diarmuid Duffy; Cathal Keaveney, Ronan Clarke (1-6, four frees), Niall Hurley (2-4, one mark). Subs: Oliver Armstrong (0-4) for Keane; Zac Collins (0-1) for Maheady; Dylan Gallagher for Dara Hurley; Seán O’Dowd for Gallagher; Conor Kelly for McHale.