Daragh Ó Conchúir
AS the Mayo hurlers and team management made the return trip west from Newbridge on Sunday night, they must surely have reflected on how cruel a mistress sport can be at times.
Having stayed in touch with the hosts throughout, due largely to the accuracy of dual star Keith Higgins and some fantastic scores by his opposite wing-man, Niall Murphy, they had looked to have timed their run to perfection when hitting the front with just three minutes remaining.
Higgins lofted over a free from about 60 metres to make it 0-11 to 0-10 following an incident that led to the dismissal of the hitherto impressive Kildare half-back Colm Maguire and you just felt that Mayo would take the spoils.
It wasn’t to be, however, as the game ended in they type of drama not in keeping with what was to that point, a drab affair. Kildare had introduced a quartet of substitutes to try and turn things around and two of them combined to produce a cracking 71st minute goal to snatch a crucial Division 2B victory.
“We’re absolutely gutted,” said Mayo manager Martin Brennan. “We battled hard and thought we had it won. It was gone into injury time, we were waiting for the whistle to go. It was like what the French [rugby team] did to the Irish. There were a load of positives, but I couldn’t talk positive after the game. I just went into the dressing room after and said ‘Lads, there’s nothing I can say. The Gods weren’t with us and that’s all’. We did enough to deserve a win but it was snatched at the bitter end.”
Mayo hurling followers will recall Adrian McAndrew as one of their chief tormentors as he captained Kildare to victory over the westerners in the last ever All-Ireland B hurling final in 2004. The dual player was introduced with just six minutes remaining, and he created the match-winning score with some dancing feet that helped him evade three would-be tacklers. A magnificently delayed pass gave fellow replacement Brendan Byrne an extra yard of space and he spurned the easy point by sending a rasper to the roof of the net, leaving Mayo goalkeeper Tom Duffy helpless. There was time for one last desperate attack but it was snuffed out and Brian White called time on proceedings soon after.
It had all looked so good for the visitors early on, as Higgins and Murphy both found the target inside three minutes. Points from Maguire and Mattie Dowd (free) got Kildare back on track and though Paul Broderick restored Mayo’s advantage by winning possession well and firing over smartly, Colm Buggy restored parity almost immediately.
Fourteen minutes of stalemate followed before Dowd put Kildare in front for the first time. Despite a pointed 65 from Higgins and another marvellous score by Murphy, it was the Lilywhites who led at the interval 0-6 to 0-5.
“We got a good, strong breeze in the first half and they were up a point at half time,” Brennan commented. “It was a very tight, close game in the first half. Then against the breeze in the second half, our lads rallied very well and played out of themselves. There were some massive individual performances.”
Higgins, Murphy, Stephen Broderick, Kevin Healy and Derek McConn were among those to impress. It was nip and tuck after the resumption, with Billy White’s superb point on the run from the left sideline for Kildare the highlight of a less than absorbing encounter until Byrne’s late intervention.
Mayo upped the tempo in the final quarter with Higgins and Murphy finding the target and as they went into the lead with just three minutes of normal time remaining, you thought it might just be their day.
It wasn’t to be, however, and Byrne’s rapier thrust at the death proved the decisive factor.
“We should have had more scores with the breeze in the first half. But the team showed massive spirit, and for that reason I’m just thrilled. I came away singing their praises, because I couldn’t say a bad word about them. They’re a great bunch of lads and they’ve worked so hard the last eight weeks,” said Brennan, whose team host Kerry in McHale Park, Castlebar on Sunday week.
C Cunningham; T Finnerty, R O’Malley, P Keegan; C Maguire (0-1), D Kennedy, R Hoban; P Reidy (0-1), B White (0-1); M Dowd (0-4fs), M Moloney, C Buggy (0-1), T Murphy, D Harney (0-1), B Coulston (0-1). Subs used: B Byrne (1-0) for Coulston (54 mins); O Lynch for Moloney (54 mins); A Ryan for Murphy (61 mins); A McAndrew for Buggy (64 mins).
T Duffy; D Walsh, P Hunt, S Morley; S Coyne, P Barrett, G Whyte; S Broderick, K Healy; N Murphy (0-3), M Moloney, K Higgins (0-7, 4fs, 1 65); S Hunt, P Broderick (0-1), R Campion. Subs used: D McDonnell for Coyne (41 mins); A Healy for Hunt (42 mins); M Devaney for Freeman (50 mins).
Referee: B White (Tipperary)