McGeeney relief as Mayo rue wide count
As Mayo and Kildare warmed up close to MacHale Park on a freezing Saturday evening, in the distance you could hear an unidentified mentor telling his men what was required for victory.
"Fifteen scores, 15 scores minimum, that's the target," he shouted at his men as they went through their drills. It was an interesting call – 15 scores would have been enough to beat Kildare in three of their Division 1 league games this season, and Mayo had hit that target in two of their four games.
As it turned out, 15 points would have been enough to see off Kieran McGeeney's men on Saturday. And Mayo should have achieved it with ease. But they shot 14 wides – one more than they scored – in another unbelievable display of wayward shooting.
"When you miss as much as we did you are going to find it very hard to win a game. That's what undid us," Mayo selector Tom Prendergast said.
Manager James Horan had indicated beforehand that he would have to dash off straight after the full-time whistle and, as he left to keep an appointment, he must have been wondering what he has to do to rid his county of its inability to turn possession into scores.
If Prendergast was brutally honest about why his side lost, Lilies boss McGeeney also cut to the chase regarding how they managed to recover from being six points down with the wind in the opening half. "They only played for five or six minutes of the first half but still went in a point up," he said.
Kildare failed to score for 19 minutes despite having the wind behind them. They shot four wides in the opening 12 minutes but a side who won their opening three games seemed to be weighed down by last weekend's sobering 2-20 to 2-7 loss to Dublin.
"I didn't think there would be much of a residual thing there from last week but there was," McGeeney said.
"We were winning the ball but we wanted to go backwards with it, we just didn't seem to have the confidence to get the ball up to the forwards. It was frustrating to see lads go into their shell but, as the game wore on, they started to believe in themselves more."
Mayo have the worst goal-scoring record of any team in the four divisions – just a late Keith Higgins effort against Tyrone – but there were only minor groans when Michael Conroy blazed a gilt-edged chance high and wide after 22 minutes.
At that stage, Mayo were 0-7 to 0-1 to the good, having landed the opening six points before Niall Kelly finally got Kildare off the mark on 19 minutes.
Wing-back Colm Boyle had come forward to hit two for Mayo and newcomer Cathal Carolan also got a brace, but faded in the second half.
Mayo just needed to contain Kildare until the break and then push on. Instead they imploded. The class of Seanie Johnston was apparent for Kildare and Johnny Doyle also opened gaps with a few darting runs. The two of them got points and then Doyle set up wing-back Eoin Doyle for a fisted goal five minutes from the break, with Mayo unhappy with a free out awarded at the other end.
"The goal, coming against the run of play, was a sickener," admitted Prendergast. "There was a bad refereeing decision, we allowed ourselves to get side-tracked by that and Kildare got a goal, which was disappointing."
Two more points from Johnston and Kildare headed for the tunnel leading by a point, 1-5 to 0-7. In the stand Mayo supporters just shook their heads. You suspected they knew what was to come.
Mayo managed just five points with the wind in the second half, with one of them an inspirational effort from centre-back Tom Cunniffe from play. Eight wides – some of them dreadful – undermined them.
In contrast, Kildare, who managed to negate the influence of Barry Moran and Seamus O'Shea in midfield, scored six points and had just one wide after the break.
Mayo levelled through Evan Regan three minutes after the restart but they never led again. Kildare opened up a 1-9 to 0-9 lead and, while Mayo rallied to reduce it to the minimum with Cunniffe's point 12 minutes from time, they lacked the accuracy to salvage the game.
"We missed a huge amount of opportunities," Prendergast said. "We created a lot, enough to have easily won the game. But we missed and it becomes a a vicious circle, creating more anxiety. It's a fourth defeat in a row, four narrow defeats in games we could have won and that is very disappointing.
"We created a lot more chances than we did against Down but our problem was in finishing. We just have to take it on the chin."
It's not the first time Mayo supporters have had to do that.
Man of the match: S Johnston (Kildare)
SCORERS – Kildare: S Johnston 0-4 (1f), E Doyle 1-0, N Kelly 0-2, D Flynn, J Doyle (f), E O'Flaherty, P Brophy, F Dowling 0-1 each. Mayo: E Regan 0-3 (2f), J Doherty (1f), C Carolan, C O'Connor (2f), C Boyle 0-2 each, T Cunniffe, K McLoughin (f) 0-1 each.
Kildare – M Donnellan 7; O Lyons 6, M Foley 7, H McGrillen 6; E Bolton 6, P Kelly 6, E Doyle 7; H Lynch 6, P O'Neill 6; D Flynn 5, N Kelly 6, M O'Flaherty 5; S Johnston 7, P Brophy 6, J Doyle 6. Subs: F Dowling 6 for J Doyle 52, D Hyland 6 for Bolton 55, E O'Flaherty 6 for M O'Flaherty 61, T O'Connor 5 for Johnston 69.
Mayo – D Clarke 7; C Barrett 6, G Cafferkey 6, K Higgins 6; L Keegan 6, T Cunniffe 6, C Boyle 7; B Moran 6, S O'Shea 6; K McLoughlin 5, A O'Shea 6, C Carolan 6; E Regan 6, J Doherty 5, M Conroy 5. Subs: C O'Connor 6 for Regan 54, R Feeney 6 for Carolan 57, E Varley 5 for Conroy 60, J Gibbons 5 for A O'Shea 64.
Ref – M Higgins (Fermanagh)