WHO knows what could have happened if Ryan O’Donoghue’s last-gasp free in last Sunday’s inaugural All-Ireland Under-20 final had hit the crossbar just an inch lower?
Had the shot hit the net, Mayo would have forced extra-time and maybe, just maybe, gone on to complete the ultimate smash-and-grab.
However, what we do know is when referee Niall Cullen blew his full-time whistle, Kildare were the worthy winners.
Mayo deserve great credit though for taking to the game to the Lilywhites right until the bitter end. In truth, at times in the final 15 minutes they threatened to spoil Kildare’s plans.
However, Mayo just couldn’t find the scores to put them ahead.
With a quarter of an hour remaining, the Connacht champions were six points behind but they managed to claw it back to a one-score game with time running out.
The margin would have been even narrower had Kildare goalkeeper Aaron O’Neill not pulled off a brilliant one-on-one save to deny Ross Egan on 56 minutes.
Goalkeeper Paddy O’Malley slotted over the resultant ‘45 but Egan’s miss turned out to be a huge turning point in a gripping and thrilling contest.
Because two minutes later, Jordan Flynn, was shown a red card for pushing referee Niall Cullen, at a time when Mayo were very much on top.
The Crossmolina midfielder will deeply regret his actions and will now most likely receive a lengthy ban for laying his hand on the official for a second time as he left the field.
The incident left a dark cloud over an otherwise sporting contest that was hugely exciting game, between two very talented teams.
The fact that there was only one wide registered in the first 20 minutes speaks volumes for the standard on show, especially in that first half.
Kildare’s Jimmy Hyland was the stand-out performer. The Ballyteague man was simply unmarkable and returned a brilliant tally of ten points during a flawless display.
Losing their best man-marker, Johnny Maughan, to a head injury in 10th minute did Mayo no favours either. But even if the Castlebar Mitchels man was on the field, he would have had to be at his very, very best to curbing the influence of Kildare’s main man.
Brian McLoughlin also reaped huge rewards from the direct style employed by Kildare which caused havoc in Mayo’s full-back line.
In truth, they were on the back foot all day.
Mayo can take plenty of encouragement from the performances of the likes of Conor Diskin, Ryan O’Donoghue and Nathan Moran.
But, unfortunately, too many of their team-mates had off days.
Despite looking over-powered in the opening half, Mayo only trailed by four points, 1-13 to 1-9 at the break.
A sensational goal from captain Ryan O’Donoghue in the 23rd minute fired Mayo back into contention after Brian McLoughlin’s goal in the seventh minute had helped Kildare into a 1-10 to 0-7 lead before the Belmullet man struck.
Points from Colm Moran (2), Oisín McLaughlin (a huge effort) and Ross Egan (four frees) had kept Mayo trucking along earlier, while another Egan free and a monster point from Evan O’Brien had them in a good position when the short whistle sounded.
But Aaron Masterson, Paddy Woodgate, Hyland and Padraig Nash all landed scores at the other end as Kildare took a lead they would never relinquish.
Mayo began the second half with much greater urgency and penned Kildare in for long periods, but they were unable to make it count on the scoreboard enough, despite the best efforts of Diskin, in particular.
Kildare endured a shaky final last quarter where they failed to register a score until Hyland settled their nerves in injury-time.
During that barren spell for the Lilywhites, Mayo, despite visibly tiring, should have added a few crucial scores.
But Ross Egan’s goal chance was the big one that got away, while Mayo were also denied twice by Hawkeye decisions.
But, in reality, it was Kildare who deserved their victory.
P O’Malley (0-1, ‘45); J Maughan, B O’Malley, J Cunnane; P Lambert, C Horan, O McLaughlin (0-1); E O’Brien (0-1), J Flynn; N Moran, R O’Donoghue (1-3, 1f), T Conroy; C Diskin (0-1), R Egan (0-6, 6f), C Moran (0-3).
Subs used: J Dawson for Maughan (9 mins, inj); J Gallagher for O’Brien (38 mins); L Hughes for Conroy (49 mins); S McGreal for Moran (54 mins); S Óg Tighe for Horan (62 mins, black).
A O’Neill; M Dempsey, M Barrett, DJ Earley; D Ryan, J Gibbons, R O’Giollain, A Masterson (0-2), D Marnell; S Comerford, P Nash (0-1), T Archbold (0-1); J Hyland (0-10, 2f), B McLoughlin (1-2, 1f), P Woodgate (0-2).
Subs used: M Betts-Symonds for Earley (13 mins, black); M Glynn for Marnell (30 mins); J O’Toole for Bambrick (30 mins); C Costigan for Nash (42 mins); S Doran for McLoughlin (48 mins, black); S O’Sullivan for Woodgate (63 mins).
Referee: N Cullen (Fermanagh)