Kildare stand their ground on and off the pitch
In the chaotically nervous ending Kildare prove home advantage does matter
Kildare’s Peter Kelly celebrates at the final whistle after defeating Mayo in the All-Ireland senior football championship qualifiers Round 3 match at St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge, Co Kildare. Photograph: Inpho Kildare vs Mayo Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie
Kildare 0-21 Mayo 0-19
Impossible as it is to actually quantify home advantage this victory makes a compelling case. Because after taking a stand and holding their ground, then caught between the dead heat and the white heat of the battle, Kildare simply refused to surrender, and by then every inch of grass under their feet at St Conleth’s Park appeared to be counting.
And after sending Mayo crashing out of the football championship the heat is back on in another way, Kildare suitably fired up for whoever they meet next. The home support clearly counted too, most of them lingering on the pitch in the Saturday evening sunshine with a show of utter elation rarely seen after a round three qualifier.
Kildare had finished with such a heat wave of attacks Mayo could do little to survive it, trying to hold out bravely in a game that lived up to it sell-out billing in every sense - and which would have been lost in Croke Park.
In the chaotically nervous ending, which included seven minutes of injury time, a free from Neil Flynn and points from replacements Niall Kelly and Eamonn Callaghan eventually sent Kildare marching through to the round four qualifier and the last 12 of the championship - and out went Mayo, the team that lost four of the last six All-Ireland finals.
Kildare manager Cian O’Neill wasn’t getting caught up in any moral of the story, but there was no denying the part that St Conleth’s Park had played: after initially being deprived of home advantage, the game fixed for Croke Park instead, O’Neill held his finger to the nuclear button for 48 hours, insisting it was “Newbridge or nowhere”.
“I don’t think it contributed to the performance, but it contributed to the atmosphere,” he said. “It contributed to the Kildare fans, who were amazing, we really heard them. What contributed to the performance was hard work, resilience, character, leadership, things people have doubted from us in the past. I think the important thing is we kept the circus, if that’s what you want to call it, totally away from the players themselves.
“We really just wanted to come and play and perform. The lads just did that, they were brilliant. The bottom line was, we honestly, I’m very clear, we were not going to play that match anywhere but here, end of story. Simply because that’s what the rule stated. That was the only reason we wanted our voice to be heard, it wasn’t anything got to do with we don’t want to play in Croke Park or so on so forth. We were entitled to it, we f***ing earned it. We went to Owenbeg, we went to Longford, small crowds, did our best so it wasn’t going to be taken away.”
Still O’Neill was in no way bitter towards the GAA on their original decision to fix the game for Croke Park, citing “health and safety matters”, reckoning the Association’s director general Tom Ryan had intervened on the matter to ensure the game went ahead at St Conleth’s Park, as was Kildare’s right.
“I know he wasn’t front and centre, but I’m pretty confident in my own head that the intervention of Tom Ryan was critical to this being resolved the way it was. And I think what happened with the county board working really hard behind the scenes with the GAA, it definitely wouldn’t have happened without his intervention or his recommendation.
In those seven minutes of injury time, Mayo lost Aidan O’Shea to a second yellow card but by then it hardly mattered: level on 55 minutes, Kildare got their noses in front and kept it there until the end, Flynn’s free-taking counting a good deal, plus those late scores from Kelly and Callaghan.
Mayo got it back to a single point on the 70 minutes, Paddy Durcan adding his fourth, but even with their old reliable players on the field Mayo couldn’t get through: Andy Moran hit the last score with from a 20-metre free but by then it was a goal they needed to snatch and draw and force extra-time. It just wasn’t to be.
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford, in charge since the 2016 season and at the end of 2017 was given a three-year extension on the term, also put Kildare’s home advantage aside: it was a factor, only not the decisive one
“We always knew that they were going to come out with all guns blazing no matter where the game was played or under what circumstances,” he said. “It didn’t surprise us. They were just that bit better a team than us on the day and all respect for that. We lost the game. Would we rather it in Castlebar or Croke Park is inconsequential now at this stage.”
Any talk of an end of era, or his management position, is premature: “That’s been something said since about 2014, but Mayo football will be competitive in 2019, I have no doubt about that. The group will dust themselves down over the winter and look to reenergise to come again.
“We have two years left on our term so I don’t want anyone reading into that either way. It’s just a case of reflection which would happen if you went to the last Sunday in the competition as well. In fairness to Kildare they played hard and tough but fair and got their just rewards.”
Level going into second half, nine points each and no shortage of chances either, Mayo’s experience at this stage of the summer counted for nothing. Kildare finished with nine different scorers, urging each other on with teach one, the excellent Paul Gribbin finishing with four points, Daniel Flynn two, and Neil Flynn 0-8, seven from placed balls. Kevin Feely and Tommy Moolick also made every bit of their presence felt at midfield
Supporters had queued outside for over two hours before throw-in, but with no animosity whatsoever - except for the slight tension at the ice cream vans. Kildare started brighter her, making hay in the evening sunshine to out-score Mayo seven points to two in the opening 17 minutes, Feely, Flynn and Paul Cribbin all off their marks, Flynn deftly placing all four of his placed balls. Daniel Flynn had the one close-up goal chance too, well saved by David Clarke.
KILDARE: 1 Mark Donnellan; 2 Peter Kelly (0-1), 3 David Hyland, 4 Mick O’Grady; 5 Johnny Byrne (0-1), 6 Eoin Doyle (capt), 7 Kevin Flynn; 8 Kevin Feely (0-2), 9 Tommy Moolick; 10 Fergal Conway (0-1), 11 Paul Cribbin (0-4), 12 Keith Cribbin; 13 Neil Flynn (0-8, five frees, one 45), 14 Daniel Flynn (0-2), 15 Paddy Brophy. Subs: 19 David Slattery for K Cribbin (47 mins); 20 Chris Healy for Brophy (52 mins), 17 Niall Kelly (0-1) for Moolick (53 mins), 18 James Murray for J Byrne (68 mins); 23 Eamonn Callaghan (0-1) for Doyle (70 mins)
MAYO: 1 David Clarke; 2 Chris Barrett, 3 Ger Cafferkey, 4 Keith Higgins; 5 Lee Keegan, 6 Colm Boyle, 7 Paddy Durcan (0-4); 8 Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1), 11 Aidan O’Shea; 9 Stephen Coen (0-1), 13 Jason Doherty (0-2, 10 Kevin McLoughlin (0-1); 12 James Durcan, 14 Cillian O’Connor (capt) (0-6, five frees, one 45, 15 Andy Moran (0-3). Subs: 20 Eoin O’Donoghue (0-1) for Boyle (56 mins), 25 Donal Vaughan for J Durcan (58 mins); 24 Conor Loftus for Doherty (68 mins), 26 Cian Hanley for McLoughlin (72 mins, black card)
Referee: David Gough (Meath)
First half: 0-9
Second half: 0-12
From play: 0-15
Frees conceded: 14
Yellow cards: 2
Black cards: 0
Red cards: 0
First half: 0-9
Second half: 0-10
From play: 0-13
Frees conceded: 14
Yellow cards: 3
Black cards: 1
Red cards: 1