That definitely was better. It always is when we win – and we won comfortably enough in the end against Kildare today – but as well as the result the performance was much improved too. And, along with it, our chances of surviving in Division One as well.
Despite all the snow that had fallen on it of late, the pitch at St Conleth’s Park looked in fine shape in the bright spring sunshine when we reached the ground well before throw-in this afternoon. We opted for the terrace across from the stand and had a close-up view of the lads as they went through their pre-match calisthenics.
Shortly before throw-in came the announcement of the changes we were making to the team we’d named yesterday. We made two switches before the ball was was thrown in, with Tom Parsons starting instead of Michael Hall, but lining out in midfield, and Cillian O’Connor on for Seamus O’Shea, but taking up position in his customary forward position.
We started brightly. Points from Cillian O’Connor (free), Andy Moran (a sweet one squeezed over from well out on the right) and Robbie Hennelly (a long-range free that he boomed over the black spot) put us in the ascendancy right from the off.
It would have been great to see us drive on from there. Instead, however, Kildare played their way back into the contest, winning plenty of breaking ball out the field and running hard and fast at our back line.
They opened their account via a Feely free and followed this up with one from play by Flynn. Then they cut us open at the back and only a brilliant point-blank stop by Robbie prevented them from rattling the net.
We upped it again, Cillian bagging his second from a free and then Diarmuid – finishing a rapid downfield thrust, which had begun with a marvellous turnover by Kevin McLoughlin – popping one over from play.
We looked well in control of proceedings at that stage but then Kildare, with 1-2 without reply in three minutes, got their noses in front for what would turn out to be the only time today.
Points from Feely and Brophy had cut the gap to just a single point before Flynn – who was giving Ger Cafferkey a torrid enough time – grabbed possession close to goal and then looped across the square, evading our entire backline in the process, to give himself a better angle at the target before lashing the ball to the net.
It took us a few minutes to stabilise ourselves following this setback. When we did, however, we quickly got back on terms. A third Cillian free pared the deficit to the minimum and then a monstrous score from beyond the ‘45 from the same player hauled us level.
With half-time approaching Adam Gallagher guided over a point from over on the right to put us back in front. It looked then as if we’d be taking this slight advantage – a bit undeserved but welcome all the same – into the break when suddenly we broke through for a goal that really put us in the driving seat.
Jason Doherty did the unselfish stuff to win the ball and feed Lee Keegan who in turn brought Andy Moran into the move. Andy claimed possession under pressure and slipped it back to Lee who then delayed playing in Aidan O’Shea until the big lad was in the perfect position to palm the ball to the net.
Worse still for the home side, Diarmuid then belted over a screamer from out on the left to stretch our lead to an improbable five points at the break. For sure, our lads would have been the happier at that stage, with Kildare left to wonder how on earth they could have ended up five adrift in a game where they’d had so much of the ball.
The Lilies did come at us with a brief gallop after the break. Feely opened the scoring for them on the resumption before Adam, with his second of the day, and then Andy stretched our lead to six.
They got two on the spin then and for a short while it looked as if it was game on once more, as they were still gaining plenty of possession and coming at us through the middle at pace.
The difference now, though, was that we’d got our defensive shield set up – with Colm Boyle sweeping with effect – and the so the chance of Kildare getting a second goal was remote. Once we were able to keep the scoreboard ticking over with points at the other end we were always going to be safe.
Points weren’t a problem for us and we ended the day with nineteen of them but we butchered four goal scoring chances in the second half. Cillian, Jason, Seamie and Lee all had opportunities to rattle the Kildare net but all of them failed to do so. We won by seven at the finish but, in truth, it should really have been by more.
Overall, though, you’d have to be happy with the performance. The bottom line today was that we had to come away from Newbridge with the win and that we did, with a good bit to spare.
What was encouraging today was that, with the experienced players getting back on board, how much more fluent our play often was today. Lee was central to much of this improvement – we’re, for sure, a different team when he’s on the field – but the return of both Tom Parsons, who put in a strong first half shift, and Seamus O’Shea, who replaced him early in the second half and played a stormer from there to the finish, also had us marching to a different beat.
So too did the lively performances from both Diarmuid O’Connor and TG4 Man of the Match Kevin McLoughlin. Both had their best displays for the county for quite a while and both played a major part in helping to secure the win.
So too did the understated but hugely steady shift put in by Stephen Coen, who hoovered up an amount of ball in the half-back line and who was always on hand to take and then give ball to keep a move going.
Boyler was his usual brave and buccaneering self, Eoin O’Donoghue was steady, finding time in the second half to raid forward and shoot over his third point of this League campaign, Caolan Crowe did fine and Ger Cafferkey, once we’d re-set the defence after the goal, did okay too.
Up front, Andy was a great outlet and his old fox tricks are getting better all the time. Cillian looked in much better mood on his return, he was steady from the frees and also weighed in with a super effort from play. Jason worked hard too and Adam Gallagher – who had to retire with a slight knock midway through the second half – did more than enough to justify his inclusion, bagging two important points. Conor Loftus also got two off the bench when he replaced Adam in the second half.
Robbie Hennelly has taken plenty of stick here and elsewhere but I felt he did very well for us today. There was a period in the first half when five restarts went astray but the fact that this happened wasn’t wholly down to him and, aside from that, he contributed a fair bit to the win. That first-half save was top class and the two frees from long-range placed balls (the second one, a ‘45 is here) were nice as well. Apart from that he dealt confidently with everything else that came his way.
Heads and shoulders above everyone today, though, had to be Aidan O’Shea. He bagged 1-1 of our total – the goal effectively sealing the win just before the break – and was a total menace as he rampaged forward but he also spent plenty of time stationed further back, breaking up Kildare attacks and repeatedly forcing turnovers. Style on you, Aido.
So, with four points on the board and a much nicer look to the League table tonight from our perspective – where we sit fifth, with Kerry and Donegal, as well as Kildare below us – our chances of retaining our Division One status now look much brighter. Indeed, a win over Tyrone next weekend and we’re almost certainly safe with a match still to play.
But for this team it’s never been about how we do in the League. In that regard, the flashes we showed today of the kind of football we play in high summer was, for me, the most pleasing aspect of today’s performance.
It’s this we now need to build on over the next two weekends. Providing we do, we’ll do enough to stay in Division One while at the same time help to sharpen our minds ahead of the sterner tests that await us once again come summer.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly (0-2, one free, one ‘45); Caolan Crowe, Ger Cafferkey, Eoin O’Donoghue (0-1); Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan, Tom Parsons; Stephen Coen, Cillian O’Connor (0-4, three frees); Kevin McLoughlin (0-1), Aidan O’Shea (1-1), Diarmuid O’Connor (0-2); Jason Doherty (0-1), Andy Moran (0-3), Adam Gallagher (0-2). Subs: Seamus O’Shea for Parsons, Conor Loftus (0-2, one free) for Gallagher, Fergal Boland for Doherty, David Drake for Diarmuid O’Connor, Barry Moran for Cillian O’Connor, Shane Nally for Boyle.
Man of the Match poll:
Who was our MOTM against Kildare? Vote for your top three performers
- Aidan O’Shea (35%, 430 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (21%, 250 Votes)
- Andy Moran (8%, 96 Votes)
- Leeroy Keegan (6%, 68 Votes)
- Diarmuid O’Connor (6%, 67 Votes)
- Robbie Hennelly (5%, 57 Votes)
- Adam Gallagher (4%, 49 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (3%, 31 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (2%, 26 Votes)
- Eoin O’Donoghue (2%, 24 Votes)
- Cillian O’Connor (2%, 21 Votes)
- Shane Nally (1%, 17 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 16 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (1%, 16 Votes)
- David Drake (1%, 13 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (1%, 9 Votes)
- Ger Cafferkey (1%, 7 Votes)
- Seamus O’Shea (1%, 7 Votes)
- Caolan Crowe (1%, 7 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (0%, 3 Votes)
- Barry Moran (0%, 3 Votes)
Total Voters: 781