KILDARE 0-18 MAYO 2-20

By Richard Commins

For 48 minutes in Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, Kildare and Mayo served up a veritable feast of fast, attacking football that at times was more akin to a basketball match. Or hurling.

Jimmy Hyland’s free at that stage from close range brought Kildare within a point of the All-Ireland finalists and sensing the need for a win the way games were playing out elsewhere, you wondered would Kildare’s greater need give them the conviction to go on and win their final Allianz League Division 1 tie.

Nothing doing on that score unfortunately. Jordan Flynn finished Mayo’s second goal to the net a minute later and Kildare’s performance fizzled out disappointingly in unseasonal Carrick-on-Shannon heat.

Meanwhile, Tyrone and Donegal were getting their business done – if only just – and the remaining hope for the Lilywhites was a draw between Monaghan and Dublin in Clones. An injury time Dublin penalty made that a real possibility but Jack McCarron’s free with the last kick of the match broke hearts in two Leinster counties.

Mayo’s state of mind coming into this was questionable. They had lost the previous two games and there was a legitimate question as to whether they would welcome a league final with the Connacht Championship clash with Galway around the corner. James Horan stayed away, a Confirmation clash apparently, and the Connacht side made five changes from the announced team.

Kildare on the other hand came into it on the back of a big win against Monaghan and had the “luxury” of leaving Daniel Flynn on the bench after his bout of illness.

From the throw-in, the game developed into an end-to-end shoot out, with Kildare scoring some wonderful points, Ben McCormack accounting for four of them as Kildare racked up a dozen points for the third half of football in succession.

Unfortunately, at the other end, the full-back line, the rocks upon which Glenn Ryan had built Kildare’s league campaign, were having their first real off-day of the campaign, albeit they were offered very little protection by those in front of them.

Jason Doherty blazed a goal opportunity wide after five minutes as the Kildare defence was carved open and Mark Donnellan pulled off a good save from James Carr in the twelfth minute.

The warning signs were not heeded, though, and a minute later Aidan O’Shea and Oisín Mullen were involved in the move that found the excellent Ryan O’Donoghue through on Donnellan’s goal and he calmly slotted home.

That put Mayo three points clear (1-2 to 0-2) but Kildare recovered impressively, scoring eight points in the next thirteen minutes to move 0-10 to 1-6 ahead. Their football was exhilarating with Kevin Feely dominating in the air, Kevin Flynn’s pace burning the Mayo cover and McCormack on fire in the forwards.  

Paul Cribben, Darragh Kirwan and Flynn scored fine points as well. Indeed, they did not record a wide until six minutes before half-time.

But they were struggling to contain O’Donoghue and Doherty and were dealt a severe blow when man-marker Ryan Houlihan went off injured before half-time, by which time Mayo had edged ahead by 1-10 to 0-12.

Mayo themselves had suffered two big injury blows with Brendan Harrison and Diarmuid O’Connor failing to see out the first half, the former in particular looking in a lot of distress as he was stretchered off after only four minutes.

Kildare needed to hit the ground running after the break but they remained porous at the back while continuing to puncture Mayo at the other end. The sides shared the first eight points of the half equally but the slackness in the Lilywhite defence continued to threaten a goal concession.

O’Donoghue and Flynn might have netted from decent opportunities before the latter got on the end of a fine move involving O’Donoghue, Doherty, and Jack Carney. This time Flynn’s finish had enough on it to beat Donnellan and Kildare found themselves four adrift.

Kildare had summoned Daniel Flynn at this stage and while he was lively, his colleagues around him were running out of puff and into blind alleys. Mayo tightened up defensively, too, it has to be said and continued to punish Kildare on the break with O’Donoghue, Doherty, and Carney too hot for the Lilywhites to handle.

As the “away” team faded, Mayo tacked on another six points with barely a hand laid on them and Kildare only managed two in the last 24 minutes, including injury time, from Darragh Kirwan and substitute Brian McLoughlin.

The Mayo men might have had a third goal when O’Shea was too strong for Feely in his own half and launched another move that carved Kildare open. Thankfully, for travelling supporters, Donnellan was on his mettle to save from O’Donoghue.

So, it is back to Division 2 for Ryan and his troops and that won’t be a picnic. They’ll be taking part in a mini Leinster Championship with Dublin, Meath and Louth, along with resurgent Derry, while Clare, Limerick and Cork will fly the Munster flag.

There is no doubt that there have been positives from the campaign, and Kildare might feel a little unlucky to go down. Five points is a considerably better return than our last two visits to the top-flight but unfortunately, we arrive in the same place.

Maybe a four home, three away schedule would have made a difference, given we lost all four games on our travels but I’m sure Ryan wouldn’t use that as an excuse. No doubt he will look to the Tyrone game in particular as the one that got away. That and an inability to score goals. Kildare’s two goals scored represented the worst return of all 32 counties in the league.

For now, attention turns towards this year’s Leinster Championship with Kildare due to meet the winners of Mickey Harte’s Louth and Niall Carew’s Carlow on the 1st of May. The words “banana” and “skin” come readily to mind.

KILDARE: Mark Donnellan 0-1(f); Mick O’Grady (Capt), Shea Ryan, Ryan Houlihan; Tony Archbold, James Murray, Daragh Ryan; Kevin Feely, Kevin Flynn 0-1; Kevin O’Callaghan, Ben McCormack 0-4, Paul Cribbin 0-2; Paddy Woodgate 0-2 (2fs), Darragh Kirwan 0-3, Jimmy Hyland 0-4 (3fs, 1m). Subs: Darragh Malone for Houlihan 31, Daniel Flynn for O’Callaghan 44, Alex Beirne for Woodgate 57, Brian McLoughlin 0-1 for McCormack 59, Paddy McDermott for D. Ryan 67.

MAYO: Rory Byrne; Lee Keegan, David McBrien, Brendan Harrison; Michael Plunkett 0-2, Oisin Mullin, Rory Brickenden; Jordan Flynn 1-2, Matthew Ruane 0-1; Diarmuid O’Connor, Aidan O’Shea, Jack Carney 0-3; James Carr 0-1, Jason Doherty 0-5, Ryan O’Donoghue 1-4 (1f, 1m). Subs: Padraig O’Hora 0-2 for Harrison, Kevin McLoughlin for O’Connor 24, Enda Hession for McBrien HT, Aiden Orme for Carr 48, Stephen Coen for Doherty 67.

REFEREE: David Gough (Meath)

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