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Mayo and Kildare, the eternal optimists


COMING FROM BEHIND Mayo's Hugh Lynch has his shorts pulled down by Mayo's Jason Doherty during the county's league match in Castlebar in 2013. Pic: Sportsfile

Cormac O’Malley

MAYO v Kildare. It’s a novel pairing, especially in the championship.
Having spent a number of years following Kildare teams at all grades and codes until recently returning back to the homeland, it’s a fixture that I had hoped to see more of over the years but the two counties have managed to studiously avoid each other up until now.
Take that 1935 All-Ireland semi-final – Kildare were coming to the end of their greatest era and Mayo were really just setting out on their own one. Many at the time, perhaps, would have anticipated further meetings but it was not to be.
After Mayo’s heyday both sides went into decline and, save for a memorable All-Ireland Minor semi-final in 1991, the counties continued to avoid each other in the mid 90s.
First Mayo emerged from their slumber to reach successive All-Ireland finals and then Kildare, under Mick O’Dwyer, captured two Leinster titles around the turn of the century.
When Mayo kicked back into gear from 2004 to 2006, Kildare were going through a tough time until the appointment of Kieran McGeeney in 2007.
McGeeney is still a divisive figure in Kildare circles, but there is no doubt that he brought the Lilywhites back to prominence and were a major player on the national scene under his stewardship. A Leinster title and an All-Ireland Final place were cruelly denied to them on a couple of occasions in that era.
From a personal point of view, at a time when Mayo were not travelling all that well, it was disappointing to see the likes of Johnny Doyle, Dermot Earley, Aindriu MacLochlainn and co not reach the promised land.
The defeat to Donegal in the 2011 All-Ireland quarter-final coincided with Mayo defeating Cork less than twenty-four hours later and, ever since, the trajectories of the counties has completely swapped.
One legacy though of McGeeney time in charge was to bring them to an under 21 Leinster title and the backbone of that team – nurtured at minor level by Bryan Murphy – now composes a sizeable part of the current senior side.
Mark Donnellan, David Hyland, Fergal Conway, Jonathan Byrne, Tommy Moolick, Niall Kelly and Fionn Dowling all played that memorable night in Portlaoise in 2013 and will be involved this weekend again.
Three more of that under 21 side are missing — Paul Cribbin is injured while both Sean Hurley and Paddy Brophy (who scored the winner when Kildare last beat Mayo in the league and whose mother hails from Newport) are plying their trade in the AFL.
So while Mayo go into the game as 1/10 favourites, they are going up against a county that is as fiercely proud and football mad as our own, with supporters who live and breathe the game every bit as much as ourselves.
>From Leixlip and Celbridge in the north to Castlemitchell and Athy in the south of the county they will bring big numbers and even bigger voices.
They will also bring a manager in Cian O’Neill who has intimate knowledge of Mayo football, and players who have nothing to fear and plenty of ability.
It promises to be a pure football contest between two proud counties and, whoever comes out on top, they won’t be able to stop immediately thinking of even brighter days ahead.
Because we are cut from the one cloth in Mayo and Kildare – eternal optimists!

Cormac O’Malley is a freelance sports reporter from Bonniconlon, Co Mayo who was based in Kildare for a number of years.


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