Kildare's home fires are too hot to handle
Kildare 0-21 Mayo 0-19
Long after the final whistle had sounded in Newbridge last night, the Kildare fans were still on the pitch as they celebrated their most significant win in championship football since knocking out Leinster champions Meath in the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final.
After a week of high drama off the pitch about the choice of venue, there was even more excitement on the field of play as Kildare - aided by significant contributions from the bench - outscored last year's All-Ireland finalists to claim a place in the last 12 of the series.
Kildare boss Cian O'Neill has gone from zero to hero in the space of a month. He spearheaded the county's defiant and ultimately successful campaign to overturn the decision to schedule this game for Croke Park.
"I said what I had to say Monday night and that was it. There wasn't one word said about it after that. I turned off my phone, didn't speak to anyone and that was it for the week," said a jubilant O'Neill.
"It was definitely seen internally as a positive for us. I was the one saying a few things, but it was a players' decision. This wouldn't have happened unless the players were 100 per cent sure that they were not rolling over on it. If the players weren't on board this never would have happened because they are the most important stakeholders in all of this.
"The bottom line is we were not going to play that match anywhere but here tonight, end of story, simply because that's what the rule stated. We were entitled to it, we f***ing earned it."
The Kildare boss also paid tribute to the role GAA Director General Tom Ryan played in resolving the stand-off.
The Lilywhites are now one win away - against one of the four beaten provincial finalists - from creating a giant-sized headache for the GAA because if they reach the Super 8s they are entitled to play one of the games in the series at home.
While the GAA has the power to move the game from Newbridge, after the events of the past seven days it would be a brave - or foolish - GAA committee who would attempt to do so, unless they had the full agreement of the Kildare County Board.
There was a sense of inevitability about Mayo's demise. Like a punch-drunk boxer, this was one battle too many for their shrunken squad as they faded in an absorbing finish.
This Mayo team will be remembered as the greatest football team never to win an All-Ireland.
It will be the first time since 2011 that they won't play a championship game in Croke Park and it's a measure of the team's longevity that seven of last night's starters - David Clarke, Chris Barrett, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins, Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O'Shea and Andy Moran - played on the side last beaten in an All-Ireland qualifier. That particular match was a round-one fixture against Longford in 2010.
But every team has a life cycle and Mayo's ran out last night.
Kildare grabbed the early initiative and were 0-6 to 0-2 ahead after 15 minutes, with Daniel Flynn causing serious problems for the Mayo full-back line. But Mayo roared back, hitting six on the spin and retaining the lead in the 29th minute.
Kildare ended a 15-minute spell without a score with a brilliant long-range effort from Paul Cribbin in the 32nd minute, and the sides exchanges two more points - a Diarmuid O'Connor effort from play and Neil Flynn's fourth from a placed ball - to leave the game finely balanced at the break, 0-9 each.
Even though they were level, Kildare had serious issues with their kick-outs, securing primary possession from only seven of their 13 restarts, whereas they only managed to 'steal' one of David Clarke's re-starts, though it did lead to a Kevin Feely point.
There was little between the sides in the third quarter, though Kildare's midfield woes continued as Aidan O'Shea dominated the skies and a brace from Kevin McLoughlin and Jason Doherty moved Mayo two clear. But, inspired by a brilliant performance from Cribbin - he ended the contest with four points from play - Kildare fought back to level an absorbing contest for the fourth time in the second half with 20 minutes left.
It went score for score but, crucially, Kildare finally sorted out their kick-out, with Feely becoming more influential. Suddenly it was Mayo who looked vulnerable as they squandered a couple of chances while Kildare couldn't miss at the other end, with Johnny Byrne's monster 56th-minute point putting the home side two clear.
Now it was Mayo's turn to chase the game - and their season. With eight minutes left it was level for the tenth time, courtesy of a brilliant point from substitute Eoin O'Donoghue.
It was just a shoot-out from then to the final whistle as the excitement reached fever-pitch. A brilliant intercept from corner back Peter Kelly set up a Kildare point which he scored himself. Substitute Niall Kelly then doubled their advantage before Paddy Durcan, with his fourth point, left a score between the sides again.
Mayo's Kevin McLoughlin was black carded in the 71st minute, adding to their woes. David Clarke kept the westerners in the game with a point-blank save from substitute Kelly, but in the ensuing melee Mayo were penalised for picking the ball off the ground. Neil Flynn tapped over the free before Eamon Callaghan made it a three-point game in the 75th minute.
Aidan O'Shea was sent off for a second yellow card in the seventh minute of injury time and the contest ended with Mayo's Andy Moran - in his 75th and possibly last championship appearance - driving a 13-metre free over the bar.
The dream is over for Mayo but suddenly the whole summer looks so inviting for Kildare. The memory of their 12 losses on the spin is a distant memory.
Scorers - Kildare: N Flynn 0-8 (6f, 1 45), P Cribbin 0-4, K Feely, D Flynn 0-2 each; P Kelly, J Byrne, F Conway, N Kelly, E Callaghan 0-1 each. Mayo: C O'Connor 0-6, (5f, 1 65), P Durcan 0-4, A Moran 0-3, (1f), J Doherty 0-2, S Coen, K McLoughlin , D O'Connor, E O'Donoghue 0-1 each
Kildare: M Donnellan, P Kelly, D Hyland, M O'Grady; J Byrne, E Doyle, K Flynn; K Feely, T Moolick; F Conway, P Cribbin, K Cribbin; N Flynn, D Flynn, P Brophy. Subs: D Slattery for K Cribbin 48m; C Healy for Brophy 51m; N Kelly for Moolick 54m; J Murray for Byrne 68m; E Callaghan for Doyle 71m
Mayo: D Clarke; C Barrett, G Cafferkey, P Durcan; L Keegan, K Higgins, C Boyle, A O'Shea, S Coen; K McLoughlin, J Doherty, D O'Connor; J Durcan, C O'Connor, A Moran. Subs: E O'Donoghue for Boyle 57m; D Vaughan for J Durcan 59m; C Loftus for Doherty 68m; C Hanley for McLoughlin (BC) 72m.
Referee: David Gough (Meath).
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