By Brendan O’Brien, St Conleth’s Park
Kildare never blinked when facing down the GAA’s top brass this week and they followed it up with another show of outstanding defiance to overcome Mayo at an electric St Conleth’s Park this evening.
Beaten by Carlow, a Division Four side, last month, they are now just one more round of All-Ireland qualifiers away from making the Super 8s and giving the Croke Park movers and shakers another potential headache when it comes to fixtures and venues.
There is no doubt but that the very public fight to have the game played on home side by manager Cian O'Neill helped them here against a side reputed to be their superior.
Outnumbered though Kildare were by the away fans, the tight confines of the Newbridge ground made for an atmosphere that was feverish and hectic and ear-splittingly loud and a contest of rare quality.
The run for the few hundred seats available in the main stand was a sight to see when the gates opened two hours prior to throw-in and the lucky eight or so thousand people in attendance were treated to an engrossing evening.
The suspicion was that the home side would be energised by the events of the previous week and so it proved with Cian O’Neill’s men cantering into a 0-7 to 0-2 lead through the opening fifteen or so minutes.
Mayo never panicked.
The Connacht side began to dominate around the midfield, even on Kildare’s kickouts, and the mass of pressure exerted on the Lilywhites told on a scoreboard that clocked a seemingly relentless run of Mayo scores.
That Cillian O’Connor claimed four of them from frees said everything about the strain under which the Kildare defenders were operating and it took a Paul Cribbin point to end a 14-minute drought for the home side at the other end.
Nine apiece at the interval, the sides matched each other almost blow for blow throughout the second period. All told, they drew level ten times between the fourth and the 63rd minute before Kildare began to pull away.
Mayo’s problems were augmented by the loss to a black card of Kevin McLoughlin and Aidan O’Shea to a second yellow, both as the game entered the red, as Kildare staved of a desperate last lunge for a goal by the visitors.
There will be no meandering epic involving Mayo this summer now. For them it is a case of 'Newbridge to nowhere' and this exit will inevitably lead to post mortems as to whether this great generation of players has had their day.
For Kildare, a year that had delivered eight straight defeats until they detoured into the qualifiers has, all of a sudden, picked up an extraordinary amount of momentum. They’ll have no problem playing in Croke Park now.
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).