We could have won it, we looked for a while like we might ship a whipping, we probably did enough for the draw in what was a high-scoring shoot-out of a contest but then we lost it to an unbelievable last-second long-range point from Kildare’s Paddy Brophy, whose mother hails from Newport. For an opening NFL encounter at the start of February, the entertainment quotient was certainly on the high side even if the result was a little disappointing from our point of view.
It was great to meet up with the Club ’51 people in the Liffey Arms before the match, where the large Mayo turnout had the bar staff under pressure for a while. There was a big Mayo crowd in St Conleth’s Park too where just over 6,000 punters filed through the gate to see what turned out to be a real ding-dong contest.
We shaded the early exchanges, moving a few points ahead, getting pegged back, edging in front again, back again, on again. An early setback for us came when Tom Parsons went off injured after only a few minutes. When the Charlestown man was seen being shepharded to the touchside ambulance soon after, it was clear his day’s football was over, with Jason Gibbons coming on to replace him.
We were two points to the good when Kildare’s impressive no.7 Paul Cribbin also had his afternoon cut short, when his trip on the lively Adam Gallagher saw him off on a black card. You might have thought that this enforced change would have upset the home side’s play and for a while it seemed that this might have been the case – as we moved into a 0-10 to 0-7 lead – but then in the last ten minutes or so of the first half the Lilywhites really began to motor and seized control of the contest.
In that patch, they hit us with 1-3 without reply, the goal a wholly preventable one where Tomas O’Connor (who lined out instead of Padraig Fogarty) outfielded Kevin Keane to win an overhit Hail Mary ball and then got the better of a one-on-two situation to roll the ball into the net. That put them a point up and they followed it up with three well-taken points, two from play, to put them four up at the break.
Just before the short whistle we suffered another blow when Aidan O’Shea got black-carded for a stupid challenge. I haven’t seen the replays yet so I’m not sure to what extent the Kildare lad made a meal of it but Aido should really have known better. His premature departure meant we’d have to play the second half with Brian Gallagher alongside Jason Gibbons in what was effectively a second-string midfield.
We needed to regroup after that barrage but it was the home team who continued to pile on the pressure after the break. Two quick points from play, the first from Brophy and the second from McNally, stretched their lead to six, at which stage we looked to be in real bother.
But then we forced our way right back into the contest, via two well taken goals within the space of a few minutes. The first one, superbly-taken by Jason Gibbons, came at the end of a flowing move, which was initiated by Brian Gallagher, with his namesake Adam then offloading at speed to the galloping Gibbons who thumped it to the net to halve the deficit facing us. Minutes later we were level when Andy Moran picked out Darren Coen with a pinpoint pass and the Hollymount/Carramore man made no mistake from close range.
I thought we’d power on from there but with Gibbons and Gallagher failing to make too much inroads in terms of primary possession, our backline continued to feel the pressure. We managed to sneak ahead briefly when Shane McHale bombed forward to notch a point but soon after O’Flaherty had the ball in the net at the other end and the Lilywhites were back on top once more.
From there to the finish, it was end-to-end stuff. Scores were traded a few times before an Adam Gallagher free followed by a wonderful effort from play from sub Diarmuid O’Connor pulled us level and then another free, this time from Kevin McLoughlin, edged us back in front.
But they hit back immediately to level and added two more for good measure. Two late frees from Kevin Mc – the second one almost a minute into the allotted one minute of injury time – hauled it back to stalemate but one last surge from Kildare resulted in Brophy landing that glorious winner for them from way out on the right.
It was disappointing to lose – isn’t it always? – but I wouldn’t be pressing the panic buttons after that display. Kildare clearly had way more work done coming into this match and their neat, well-drilled passing game paid strong dividends for them today against what was obviously a rusty enough Mayo outfit. I was never a fan of Kildare under McGeeney but I think that in Jason Ryan they’ve now got a manager of real substance and with those promising U21s starting to show what they can do at senior level, they could do alright this year.
When we got motoring in the second half we looked good but I think it’s fair to say we’ve a lot to work on to get us back up to the level we know we need to get to. It is, though, early days yet.
Too early, I reckon, to be drawing hasty conclusions about anything based on today’s performance. It is worth noting, though, that we conceded a rather shocking amount of scores today, as we invited Kildare far too deep into our territory and then seemed happy to stand off and let them shoot from distance (and, to be fair to them, they were well able to do so). Our set-up at the back just didn’t work today – as I remarked earlier on, playing Colm Boyle at 4 is akin to using a prize bull for ploughing – and an obvious switch for Omagh would see Keith Higgins, who seemed totally lost at centre-forward, back in the corner and Boyler restored to where he needs to be at wing-back.
Positives from today included the strong second half displays by the likes of Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan, Cathal Carolan and subs Jason Gibbons, Brian Gallagher and David Drake, as well as Adam Gallagher’s very encouraging League debut at wing-forward. Robbie Hennelly’s Cluxton-esque converted fifties, three in all in the first half, were also noteworthy.
I hope too that Tom Parsons is okay – his comeback appearance unfortunately lasted only a few minutes and it looked as if he spent more time this afternoon in the hospital than he did at St. Conleth’s Park. Hopefully it’s nothing too serious and with a bit of luck he’ll be back in action soon once again.
So it’s one league match down and six to go, with the focus shifting to Healy Park and the significant challenge of Tyrone next weekend. After today’s patchy opening to the 2014 season for us, we’ll now have added incentive in seeking to get something tangible from our second away match of this league campaign.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly (0-3, ‘45s); Kevin Keane, Ger Cafferkey, Colm Boyle; Lee Keegan (0-1), Shane McHale (0-1), Brendan Harrison; Tom Parsons, Aidan O’Shea (0-1); Cathal Carolan, Keith Higgins, Adam Gallagher (0-3, two frees); Kevin McLoughlin (0-8, six frees), Andy Moran, Darren Coen (1-0). Subs: Jason Gibbons for Parsons, Brian Gallagher for O’Shea (black card), David Drake for Harrison, Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1) for Coen, Alan Freeman for Higgins, Enda Varley for Adam Gallagher.