Mayo somehow overcome Kildare despite dreadful display

Late goals from Oisín Mullin and Jordan Flynn secure victory in a slow-bicycle race of a game

All-Ireland SFC Qualifier round two

Mayo 2-13 Kildare 0-14

Malachy Clerkin

Croke Park

Sometimes even a slow bicycle race makes it hard to look away. Thus did Kildare and Mayo both turn in bad enough performances on Saturday to make for a compelling evening. It ended with the faintly tragicomic sight of Kildare goalkeeper Aaron O’Neill back-pedalling to watch a Jordan Flynn shot that may or may not have been an attempt at a point sail over his head into the net. Mayo out the gap with a five-point win. How?

This was a game in which 2-7 of Mayo’s 2-13 total had to be sourced in either their defence or their bench. It was a game where they dropped five shots short of the Kildare goals in the opening 20 minutes alone. A game where they trailed by six points with half an hour to go and somehow won the remainder 2-8 to 0-3 despite never getting into any sort of flow or fluency. Again, how?

Well, part of it was that their pillars held them up when they had to. Lee Keegan was terrific again, shutting down Jimmy Hyland at one end and taking on shooting responsibility when nobody else could trust themselves at the other. Oisín Mullin shook off a sketchy defensive display to bomb forward for the killer goal, Eoghan McLaughlin kept them breathing when they couldn’t buy a score early on.

But partly too it was that Kildare were unable to finish them off, aching though they were to be put out of their misery. Glenn Ryan’s side weren’t great either but they did at least position themselves to win coming down the stretch. Their midfield pairing of Kevin Feely and Kevin O’Callaghan gave Mattie Ruane and Aidan O’Shea a chasing throughout and Hyland was generally dependable on the frees. They led by 0-13 to 0-10 on the hour mark and everyone could see that 10 minutes of minimal mistakes would see them home.

But they couldn’t manage it. On 62 minutes, Mullin burst into the Kildare scoring zone but looked like he was about to be bottled up by three Kildare defenders. He was probably as surprised as anyone to find himself bouncing out of the clinch into open country, as if he’d pulled a book off a shelf and triggered a revolving wall. All it took from there was a one-two with Pádraig O’Hora and the roofed the finish. Draw game. Grandstand finish.

Man oh man, but it was gruelling stuff up to then. On Mayo’s last championship visit to Croke Park, they kicked away the All-Ireland final and watched their chance of lifting Sam Maguire go up in the smoke of hurried attempts and wayward drives. This was like that, minus the gum-bleeding tension of the game’s biggest day.

In the first half, Mayo had 16 shots on goal and scored with five of them. Five of their attempts didn’t even reach the goals. They improved in the second half – they could hardly have been worse – but they finished the day with 15 scores from 33 shots. You won’t survive for long in Croke Park shooting under 50 per cent. They shouldn’t have survived here.

Glenn Ryan’s side led by 0-8 to 0-5 at the break, without being in any way sparkling themselves. The five-goal tonking they took from Dublin in the Leinster final got its answer here – Kildare lined up with a double sweeper and didn’t budge from it, even when they went behind late on. For ages, it had worked a treat. Sufficient onto the day was the bus-parking thereof.

Especially so when they pushed on into a 0-11 to 0-5 lead early in the second half. Ben McCormack, Daniel Flynn and Jimmy Hyland all swished lovely scores and when Flynn danced around four defenders on 45 minutes, his pace and power looked to have bought him another one.

But he went for the YouTube knock-out punch rather than the steady points win and his goal attempt was blocked by Enda Hession. Within a minute, Cillian O’Connor had cut the lead to four. Within another minute, Conor Loftus had it down to three. Keegan came forward and pinged a salvation effort, substitute Fergal Boland made a claim for himself with a couple of long-range efforts. Diarmuid O’Connor put a sheen on a generally wan display with an outrageous score from distance soon after, Mullin found the tide-turning goal.

From the point on, Mayo always had the upper hand. Cillian O’Connor had a generally dispiriting day but was still able to steal in for the go-ahead score on 68 minutes. Darren McHale came off the bench to land a monster one on the stroke of 70. And when Kildare keeper O’Neill got caught upfield as Kildare chased a goal, it fell to Jordan Flynn to finish the whole thing off.

Mayo into the quarter-final, then. Produce this again and that’s where the season will end.

Kildare: Aaron O’Neill; Mick O’Grady, Shea Ryan (0-1), Ryan Houlihan; Darragh Malone (0-1), David Hyland, Kevin Flynn; Kevin Feely (0-1), Kevin O’Callaghan (0-2); Alex Beirne, Ben McCormack (0-1), Fergal Conway; Neil Flynn (0-1), Daniel Flynn (0-1), Jimmy Hyland (0-6, 0-5 frees). Subs: Paul Cribbin for Beirne, 32 mins; Darragh Kirwan for N Flynn, 55 mins; Paddy McDermott for Conway, 72 mins; Brian McLoughlin for Hyland, 72 mins

Mayo: Rob Hennelly; Lee Keegan (0-2), Oisín Mullin (1-0), Enda Hession; Paddy Durcan, Stephen Coen, Eoghan McLaughlin (0-2); Aidan O’Shea, Mattie Ruane; Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1), Jason Doherty, Conor Loftus (0-1); James Carr, Jack Carney (0-1), Cillian O’Connor (0-3, 0-1 free). Subs: Fergal Boland (0-2) for Doherty, 28 mins; Darren McHale (0-1) for Carr, 44 mins; Pádraig O’Hora for Coen, 46 mins; Jordan Flynn (1-0) for O’Shea, 61 mins; Aiden Orme for Carney, 72 mins

Referee: Derek O’Mahoney (Tipperary)

Stats

Kildare

Score 0-14

First half 0-8

Second half 0-6

From play 0-9

Wides 8

Frees conceded 11

Yellow cards 1

Black cards 0

Red cards 0

Mayo

Score 2-13

First 0-5

Second half 2-8

From play 2-12

Wides 12

Frees conceded 19

Yellow cards 2

Black cards 0

Red cards 0

ends

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times