Some days just turn out to be ones to treasure. Today, for me, was for sure one of those rare, gilded ones I’ll look back on wistfully for many a day. It’s been a long day – the first half of which was spent cycling, in near perfect conditions, the jaw-dropping splendour of the Westportif and this was followed by this evening’s qualifier win over Kildare at MacHale Park. Yes, there have been far worse days than this one.
We finished up the 120km spin over in Westport a bit after three this afternoon. From there it was a fast dash back to the ancestral homeplace for a shower, the spuds and back out the door again. By the time we settled into our seats at MacHale Park forty minutes or so before throw-in the place was already filling up nicely. Over 14,500 punters eventually came through the turnstiles this evening.
Unlike the last evening, we were to the fore right from the start in this one. They may have won the first ball from the throw-in – and would continue to dominate around the middle pretty much for the whole evening – but it was us who got the scoreboard moving first. Indeed once we hit the front – via a delicious outside-of-the-boot effort from Diarmuid O’Connor – we stayed there right till the end.
We quickly built a four-point lead and the score-taking in this period was strictly a family affair. Diarmuid thumped over a second off the outside of his boot – this one even sweeter than the opener, the wind taking the ball and sending it shooting right over the black spot – and we followed this up with a free from Cillian O’Connor. Then it was Diarmuid again, skipping down the right-hand channel and guiding it over to send us four clear.
Kildare then opened their account with a point from Eoin O’Flaherty. A second Cillian free – a monstrous one from long-range, way out on the left – provided our answer to that.
The visitors then hit two on the spin before Paddy Durcan let fly from distance to settle us once more. Kildare continued to press, though, and two further unanswered scores cut our lead back to a single point.
They would have been happy enough at that stage, I’m sure, as they’d weathered our opening barrage and had played their way right back into the contest. But if they were content, they didn’t stay that way for long as we hit them with 2-3 without reply in blistering 10-minute spell that effectively won the game for us.
Before this fusillade occurred, the crowd were starting to get a bit agitated. It became glaringly obvious that we were going to find it very hard to get frees of any sort in this game and when two decent penalty shouts were waved away – the second one a cast-iron claim when two Kildare defenders hauled the in-rushing Diarmuid O’Connor to the turf – a chorus of boos rang around the ground. But then we just proceeded to blitz them and from then on it was party time at MacHale Park.
A cracking long-range pointed free from Evan Regan started this onslaught. Then the goal that had looked like it was coming for a while eventually did when Evan poked a loose ball home, following good foraging in the lead-in from Andy Moran. Evan then followed up with a peach of a point from play, from a delicious cross-field pass from Kevin McLoughlin.
The next score, our second goal of the evening, was something else altogether. It was nothing short of a piece of virtuoso magic from Diarmuid O’Connor who started it by running strongly at the Kildare defence, before dropping the shoulder and switching pace, catching the rearguard off balance. Before they had the chance to recover the ball was in the net off his left foot. What a goal, what a player.
We were rampant now. Evan Regan was played in again and let loose a thunderbolt of a shot that cannoned off one of their lads and spun over the bar. That could, and maybe should, have been a third major for us but the haul we’d got meant that the lads marched off – to a standing ovation – with a lead of ten points in the bag.
There was no way back for Kildare after that. They tried lofting high balls into the square but we stationed Aidan O’Shea back in there, with Donal Vaughan dropping back too, once Stephen Coen had replaced Kevin Keane. With the number of bodies back and the tigerish way we defended there was simply no way we were going to concede a goal.
Colm Boyle epitomised this uncompromising No pasaran! approach. David Clarke’s kick-outs all evening were good (his shot-stopping wasn’t bad either, he stopped one particularly stinging goalbound effort just before the break) but one went astray. Faced with the danger of a clear shot on goal, Boyler took one for the team and dragged the Kildare man in possession to the floor. The Davitts man, once he’d had the black card flashed at him, left the field with the crowd rising in unison to acclaim him.
With so many bodies back, the Lilywhites inevitably had more room out the field to work the ball up but points were all that were on offer in that second half. They got the gap down to seven at one point but although we went 16 minutes without a score during that second period we still kept the scoreboard moving sufficiently over the entire half to ensure that the visitors never managed to regain a firm toe-hold in the contest.
Once the replacements began to appear – with Alan Dillon on for Andy, Barry Moran replacing the banished Boyler, Jason Doherty for Brendan Harrison, Alan Freeman for Evan Regan and Conor O’Shea for the peerless Diarmuid O’Connor – the fresh legs put on fresh scores. Jason banged over two great points, Alan judged the wind to perfection placing one just inside the right-hand post and Conor thumped over the final score of the evening, as we closed out an efficient and uplifting nine-point win.
This wasn’t a perfect performance, far from it. Midfield is now an alarming concern for us – once again we were beaten up a proverbial stick there and I’m afraid changes in the sector are now an urgent prerequisite. If Tom Parsons is fit for the weekend after next, I’d be sorely tempted to field him and Barry Moran there from the start.
The ground we ceded to them up the middle was also a bit of a worry, as was the way we let them get too many shots off under little pressure. In the second half, though, we could afford to do this, knowing that we had thrown a cordon around our backline during a period of the game when they absolutely needed a goal.
Positives from this evening – aside from the fact that we secured a convincing nine-point win (and revenge against the visitors for 1935 into the bargain) – were our never-say-die defending at the back, the huge workrate at half-back (wasn’t Paddy Durcan far improved this evening?) and the increased amount of scores from play, where Evan Regan at last caught fire, ramming in 1-4, and where Diarmuid O’Connor – who went one better, bagging 1-5 – gave notice that it’ll take a special player to deny him a second YPOTY award. Diarmuid was simply outstanding this evening, the MOTM by a country mile.
So on we go. This Mayo-don’t-do-the-qualifiers mullarkey is finally being put to bed as we march on to Round 4B and another Monday morning draw to see who we pull there.
MacHale Park looked its replendent best this evening – even if the kids couldn’t quite contain themselves at full-time and, despite Paul Cunnane’s pleadings over the PA, dashed head-long onto the pitch – and we’ve now had two memorable qualifier weekends at the venue. These games have gone some way towards making up for our loss there to Galway back in June.
As Round 4 matches are played at neutral venues, that’s it for seeing a Mayo team line out at MacHale Park this year. Depending on the draw there’s at least a sporting chance that our next outing, on the August Bank Holiday weekend, will be back in Croke Park.
After our Connacht calamity last month, tonight it feels like our championship campaign is starting to build nicely. We’ve learned a bit about ourselves in the qualifiers – stuff you suspect we might not have picked up going through the front door – and, now into the final twelve, you get the feeling that we’re not the team everyone will want to end up facing from here on.
But we don’t care who we draw now. All we want to do is to keep this run going. Onwards and upwards, one more hurdle to get over and we’re back in the All-Ireland series. After tonight it’s clear we’ve got our hunger back too.
Mayo: David Clarke; Brendan Harrison, Kevin Keane, Keith Higgins (0-1); Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Paddy Durcan (0-1); Seamus O’Shea, Donal Vaughan; Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor (1-5); Evan Regan (1-4, one free), Andy Moran, Cillian O’Connor (0-2, frees). Subs: Stephen Coen for Keane, Alan Dillon for Andy Moran, Barry Moran for Boyle (black card), Jason Doherty (0-2) for Harrison, Alan Freeman (0-1) for Regan, Conor O’Shea (0-1) for Diarmuid O’Connor.
Who was our MOTM against Kildare?
- Diarmuid O'Connor (75%, 447 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (6%, 37 Votes)
- David Clarke (4%, 21 Votes)
- Evan Regan (3%, 17 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (3%, 16 Votes)
- Andy Moran (2%, 14 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (1%, 8 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (1%, 5 Votes)
- Conor O'Shea (1%, 5 Votes)
- Kevin Keane (1%, 5 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (1%, 3 Votes)
- Barry Moran (1%, 3 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (1%, 3 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (0%, 2 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (0%, 2 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 2 Votes)
- Alan Dillon (0%, 2 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (0%, 2 Votes)
- Alan Freeman (0%, 2 Votes)
- Seamus O'Shea (0%, 0 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 595