Brendan O'Brien, Newbridge
Hard to escape the conclusion that a line was drawn in the sand in Newbridge on Saturday.
Kildare’s defeat of Mayo at a thumping, feverish St Conleth’s Park has made plain the intrinsic value of home advantage in an organisation that treats the concept with a casual disdain. But has shifted the ground underneath the Lilyies’ feet, too.
Kildare were in nobody’s thoughts this time last week. Cian O’Neill’s appearance on the RTÉ news transformed them into a curiosity, and then a cause célèbre, but their win two days ago has proffered upon them the status of dangerous outsiders.
Defeated by Carlow in Leinster, a side relegated from Division One on the back of a winless campaign has now generated a wave of momentum and built up a store of confidence that will be challenged by such newly-raised expectations.
The difficulty for them now is bottling the emotion and achieving the mental equilibrium that will be needed when they return to the business of extending their summer action next Saturday.
“I don’t think it will be hard,” said O’Neill. “They’ve come too far now. They’ve come too far to get carried away with this and then underperform next week. Maybe that was a bit of learning last year after the Leinster final (loss to Dublin).
Few counties have fought so tenaciously to get what they want as Kildare last week. O’Neill emerged as a sort of Robin Hood figure in the wake of his TV appearance but he was adamant that this wasn’t about ‘sticking it to the man’.
Even if that ended up being the narrative.
“The bottom line is we were not going to play that match anywhere but here,” he explained through a voice that was on the brink of being lost. “End of story. Simply because that’s what the rule stated. We were entitled to it, we fucking earned it.”
A “circus” was the word the Kildare manager used to describe the spiralling events of the past week but he was equivocal at best on what effect the ultimate choice of venue may have had on the end result. And he wasn’t alone in that.
Stephen Rochford pointed out that it was still a case of two teams playing on the same pitch but there is just no way Croke Park would have been able to generate the kind of electric atmosphere that lit up this put-upon Newbridge venue.
Kildare seemed energised by the whole saga, cantering into a 0-7 to 0-2 lead by the end of the first quarter and, though pegged back to parity by the break, they finished the game much the stronger with four of the last five points.
Mayo had just lost Kevin McLoughlin to a black card, and Aidan O’Shea to a second yellow, by the time they launched a desperate siege on the Kildare goal and the last whistle prompted a pitch invasion.
Ronan Sweeney had no doubt but that butting heads with the GAA brass played its part: “Strangely enough, if that didn’t happen, if that whole controversy wasn’t there this week, the Kildare supporters would probably have been a little indifferent towards us because they didn’t really trust us before today,” said the selector and former player.
“But they really got behind us after the stand we took. The last time I remember anything like this was against Donegal back in 2001. So, for them to experience that as players is one of those things they’ll never forget.”
Kildare suffered in midfield for long spells on Saturday. They don’t have an outstanding, scoring forward and they still take too much out of the ball in attack far too often but they are a side laden with good players and that extends to the bench.
Kevin Feely remains the fulcrum but he is pivoting a side that boasts more than a quorum of decent defenders and some effective men up front, such as Paul Cribbin and Daniel Flynn, who offer a trojan work rate and more besides.
Claim one more win this weekend and they will generate a headache not just for opponents but for the GAA’s fixtures department who will be faced with the prospect of a county entitled to one home Super 8 game at their controversially ramshackle digs.
“That’s irrelevant to me in my job as manager,” said O’Neill.
Scorers for Kildare: N Flynn (0-8, 6 frees, 1 ‘45’); P Cribbin (0-4); K Feely and D Flynn (0-2); P Kelly, J Byrne, F Conway, E Callaghan and N Kelly (all 0-1).
Scorers for Mayo: C O’Connor (0-6 frees); P Durcan (0-4); A Moran (0-3, 1 free); J Doherty (0-2); D O’Connor, S Coen. K McLoughlin and E O’Donoghue (all 0-1).
KILDARE: M Donnellan; P Kelly, D Hyland, M O’Grady; J Byrne, E Doyle, K Flynn; K Feely, T Moolick; F Conway, P Cribbin, K Cribbin; N Flynn, D Flynn, P Brophy.
Subs: D Slattery for K Cribbin (48); C Healy for Brophy (52); N Kelly for Moolick (54); J Murray for Byrne (68); E Callaghan for Doyle (71);
MAYO: D Clarke; C Barrett, G Cafferkey, P Durcan; L Keegan, C Boyle, K Higgins; D O’Connor, A O’Shea; K McLoughlin, J Doherty, S Coen; J Durcan, C O’Connor, A Moran.
Subs: E O’Donoghue for Boyle (56); D Vaughan for J Durcan (58); C Loftus for Doherty (68); C Hanley for McLoughlin (71);
Referee: D Gough (Meath).
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