Kildare 2-19 Mayo 2-18
Paddy Brophy kicked a magnificent stoppage time winner to give new Kildare manager Jason Ryan the most dramatic of winning starts to his league tenure.
A wonderful contest at Newbridge swung almost uncontrollably in each direction before what looked like an inevitable draw became a sensational one point win for the Lilywhites.
Brophy was the hero of the day, kicking six fabulous points from play to make it the perfect start to the season for the Leinster men, but Mayo will take plenty of positives from this epic encounters as well.
An all-action tie delivered just about everything, including goals of real quality, and a draw would probably have been the fairest result.
It was Mayo who made the early running, hitting early scores through Kevin McLoughlin, Adam Gallagher and O’Shea.
But the early loss of midfielder Tom Parsons affected their game plan, leaving Aidan O’Shea with a heavy burden to carry at midfield.
Kildare got their challenge going following a shaky start, with Paddy Brophy, Paul Cribbin and Sean Hurley all chipping in with scores.
But Mayo had an effective source of scores in goalkeeper Rob Hennelly, who thumped no less than three’45’s sweetly between the posts.
Kildare defender Cribbin picked up a black card as early as the eighth minute, but the home side continued to grow in confidence, with his replacement David Hyland getting his name on the scoresheet.
O’Shea charged through to have a crack at goal, only to see his shot deflected away for a ’45, which Hennelly drilled between the posts, and Gallagher’s second score had the westerners three clear going into the final 10 minutes of the half.
But the game took a dramatic twist in the 30th minute when Tomas O’Connor collected Darroch Mulhall’s dropping delivery at the far post and squeezed the ball past ‘keeper Hennelly.
The home side added three further points to go four clear, and carry a 1-11 to 0-10 lead into the interval, and Mayo lost the influential O’Shea to a black card in stoppage time.
They stretched the advantage to six, but Mayo responded with two goals in the space of four minutes.
Jason Gibbons rifled home a spectacular goal on 39 minutes, and when Darren Coen collected Andy Moran’s cross to net from close range, suddenly the sides were level.
But Jason Ryan’s Mayo side has real heart and character, and displayed all the most admirable traits to bounce back immediately with a goal of their own, Eoghan O’Flaherty taking his chance with aplomb, and beating Hennelly with an accomplished finish.
With the Leinster men back in front, the onus was on last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists to step it up again, and they did just that, with McLoughlin and Gallagher both finding the target, before substitute David Drake brought them level with a point from a difficult angle.
From there the match built to a scintillating climax, with O’Flaherty and Hugh McGrillen nudging Kildare two points clear again, only to see the advantage wiped out.
Some crazy defending gifted Mayo a free in stoppage time, from which he claimed his eighth point and what looked certain to ensure a draw, but there was still time for Brophy to earn himself hero status as he curled over a gem from close to the sideline for a dramatic win.
Kildare: S Connolly, M O’Grady, M Foley, O Lyons, K Murnaghan, E Bolton, P Cribbin (0-1), T Moolick, G White, C McNally (0-3), E O’Flaherty (1-2), S Hurley (0-1), P Brophy (0-6), T O’Connor (1-1), D Mulhall (0-3, 2f).
Subs: D Hyland (0-1) for Cribbin (BC), F Conway for Lyons, H McGrillen (0-1) for Bolton, D Flynn for Moolick, M Conway for White
Mayo: R Hennelly (0-3, 3 ’45), K Keane, G Cafferkey, C Boyle, L Keegan (0-1), S McHale (0-1), B Harrison, T Parsons, A O’Shea (0-1), C Carolan, K Higgins, A Gallagher (0-3, 1f), K McLoughlin (0-8, 5f), A Moran, D Coen (1-0).
Subs: J Gibbons (1-0) for Parsons, B Gallagher for O’Shea (BC), D Drake for Harrison, D O’Connor (0-1) for Coen, A Freeman for Higgins, E Varley for Gallagher
Referee: R Hickey (Clare).