It wasn't supposed to be like this. Seven weeks ago, Kerry came to town and Mayo held them scoreless in the second half on their way to a 0-15 to 1-6 win. But since then, Tyrone, Dublin, Down and now Kildare have taken down our charges. Down hadn't won a game until we made the trip to Newry last week and their subsequent defeat this Saturday night just gone to an up to then winless Kerry side showed their real quality. Kildare came to Castlebar on Saturday night on the back of being toyed with by Dublin last Sunday in Croke Park, as they were picked apart for fun by the metropolitans. They didn't even play that well in McHale Park and they still went home with the points, that's the most galling thing to come from this encounter.
Mayo had their chances, more than enough chances to win this game two times over. They kicked or punched 15 wides over the seventy minutes, seven in the first half and eight in the second. They dropped a number scorable chances into Kildare goalkeeper Mark Donnellan's hands and yet again they failed to take the clear cut goal chance, when it came their way.
With two games left to go in the league, at home to Donegal next and away to Cork in three weeks time, Mayo are gazing relegation to division two right in the face and the probability of mixing it up with Louth, Laois, Wexford and Westmeath next Spring. It's not the kind of company that Mayo are used to keeping in the league or the preparation a side who are serious about having a crack at an All Ireland title will want to have under their belt before, the white heat of championship action in the summer.
Yet, with 21 minutes gone in this game, everything looked to going to plan. Mayo lead by 0-7 to 0-1, they were on top in the middle of the park and they were playing with plenty of verve, it looked like on the surface. But beneath what on the face of it looked like an top quality performance, there were signs things weren't going as well as they could. Three minutes in Aidan O'Shea should have added to the two points Mayo had already on the board from Evan Regan and Jason Doherty scores. The Breaffy man was played in down the right and looked to have a goal chance on, but instead of putting his foot through the ball he tried to fist it over the bar and skewed his effort wide on the near side. Not long after that wide, Keith Higgins had a shot for a point from 35 meters out and it dropped into the hands of Donnellan. With seven minutes gone on the clock, Mayo missed their first scorable free of the evening, when Kevin McLoughlin's left footed effort from the stand side of the pitch pulled wide from a very scorable position for the Knockmore man. A couple of minutes later, Michael Conroy, jigged and jinked his way from tight in the top left corner, to a better but still difficult shooting position and hit a shot for a point that dropped short and was claimed by the Maynooth custodian, when he could have passed to Cathal Carolan who was in a better position if he'd seen him in time.
McLoughlin did find his range with his next free on 11 minutes from a similar position to the one he missed earlier after Aidan O'Shea had been fouled by a number of Kildare defenders as he tried to break for goal. Mayo kicked their fourth point on the quarter of an hour mark after Keith Higgins used his lightning pace to make 40 yards up in a matter of seconds and leave two Kildare defenders in his wake. He played the ball back to Cathal Carolan who pointed. From the resulting kick out Mayo scored their fifth point, through Colm Boyle. The Davitts man hit a long range effort after Mayo won the break from the kick out. But both of those scores were bookmarked on either side by a brace of wides from Conroy. With 18 minutes elapsed on the clock, Barry Moran won the ball in the middle of the park, he fed it out to Carolan on the the right wing. The Crossmolina man took one look and cut the ball over the bar with the outside of his right boot for a really good score and send his side six clear.
A minute later Kildare finally made their first impression on the scoreboard when Niall Kelly kicked a good point from out on the right wing. Up to that point the closest that Kildare had come was couple of wides from Seanie Johnston and one from Johnny Doyle. But that score didn't look like it would knock Mayo off their stride and Boyle kept the lead at half a dozen, with a long range score after being picked out by Michael Conroy with a big switch cross-field pass on the 21 minute mark. Less than a minute later, the Davitts corner forward was presented with a guilt edged goal chance that you would expect him to bury. Cathal Carolan picked the ball up just inside the Kildare half and he picked out an unmarked Conroy with a laser guided pass, Conroy headed for goal and pulled the trigger, but he caught the ball with the outside of his boot and skewed his effort high and wide of the posts on his near side. With ten minutes left in the half Barry Moran charged through towards goal, but his effort with his weaker left foot failed to have the required distance to creep over the bar. Seanie Johnston hit Kildare's second score 26 minutes in, the former Cavan man did very well to shake off the shackles of a number of defenders to get his shot away. Johnny Doyle registered his sides third point from a close range free, that came about after Aidan O'Shea was blown up for a free after he got bogged down in traffic in possession after he failed to get a pass away to Barry Moran who was breaking through unmarked.
With five minutes left in the half, Mayo were given fair warning that Kildare were capable of scoring a goal on the break. A sweeping move saw the Lilywhites create an overlap and the ball was hand passed in the direction of Emmet Bolton who looked like he was going to flick it to the back of the net. However, David Clarke had other ides and came out strong and punched the ball away and cleared out anyone who got in his way in the process.
But that was only a temporary relief as less than 60 seconds later the ball was in the back of the Mayo net, at the Albany end of the ground. A quick break down the pitch saw the ball fall to Johnston who quickly fed it to Doyle who in turn played it into the path of Eoin Doyle who applied an unusual punch to divert it past Clarke. The score itself came after Kildare were awarded a controversial free on their own 50m line, when the large home crowd expected it to be given the other way.
Kildare rounded off their first half scoring with a brace of Johnston scores, one from a free and the other from play. Mayo finished off the half by missing two scoring chances, one a free from Jason Doherty that he pulled wide and the other another missed free that Kevin McLoughlin dropped short right on the half time whistle to leave Mayo trailing 0-7 to 1-5 at the break.
The half-time break saw Mayo reshuffle the deck for the start of the second period with Barry Moran going into full forward for the start and Aidan O'Shea joining his brother in the middle of the park, with Evan Regan lining out in the number eleven position. Regan also took over the free taking duties from the right hand side and he kicked his first effort over the bar two minutes into the half to level the contest back up. Daniel Flynn put Kildare back into the lead two minutes later when he finished off a move that started from a deadball after Mayo turned over possession again. Seanie Johnston pushed the lead out to two points on the 40 minute mark with another good score from the tricky corner forward. Regan kicked his third point and second from a free after 44 minutes, this one went over the the aid of the inside of the post. But, the score came in the middle of another two bad Mayo wides. Paddy Brophy kicked his only point of the night to keep two between the sides after 47 minutes, as Mayo continued to have loads of possession, but failed to turn it into scores. Between the 14th and 15th minute, Mayo kicked three wides in a row and shortly after Cillian O'Connor was summoned from the bench for his first game time of the year. With 15 minutes left Niall Kelly kicked a wonderful score that just arced inside the post, with an outside of the boot effort. Jason Doherty closed the gap again with another free a couple of minutes later and Tom Cunniffe put only one between the sides with a no nonsense finish when the picked up the ball within shooting distance. This was quickly followed up with a chance for Mayo to level the game up when they were won a free out on the right hand side. It was a tricky but scorable chance, Mayo already had McLoughlin and Regan taking frees from that side in the game. Cillian O'Connor looked to be taking on the responsibility, but following a quick discussion with Jason Doherty, the Burrishoole man took the free and sent it wide of the target. Kildare responded with a fisted point from sub Fionn Dowling not long after, while O'Connor hit back with a pointed free on the 31 minute mark to leave the score 0-12 to 1-10 in favour of the visitors. The Ballintubber man then seemed to have also got a touch of the shooting disease that was effecting some of his team-mates when he dropped a free short into the hands of the Kildare goalkeeper from what looked like a very scorable position. Kildare went down the pitch and sub Eoghan O'Flaherty kicked his sides final score of the night. Mayo were able to close the gap back to one point, when O'Connor found his range again on the 70 minute mark, but even with two minutes of additional time played, Mayo couldn't find the score they needed to pull the game level.
Mayo: E Regan (0-3,2f ) C Carolan (0-2 ), C Boyle (0-2 ), C O'Connor (0-2, 2f ), J Doherty (0-2, 1f ), K McLoughlin (0-1, 1f ), T Cunniffe (0-1 )
Kildare: S Johnston (0-4, 1f ), E Doyle (1-0 ), N Kelly (0-2 ), J Doyle (0-1, 1f ), D Flynn (0-1 ), E O'Flaherty (0-1 ), F Dowling (0-1 ), P Brophy (0-1 )
Mayo: D Clarke; C Barrett, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan, T Cunniffe, C Boyle; B Moran, S O'Shea; K McLoughlin, A O'Shea, C Carolan; E Regan, J Doherty, M Conroy.
Subs: C O'Connor for E Regan (54 ), R Feeney for C Carolan (58 ), E Regan for M Conroy (60 ), J Gibbons for A O'Shea (63 )
Kildare: M Donnellan; O Lyons, M Foley, H McGrillen; E Bolton, P Kelly, E Doyle; H Lynch, N Kelly, M O'Flaherty; S Johnston, P Brophy, J Doyle
Subs: W Groome for D Flynn (41, blood sub ) D Flynn for W Groome (45, blood sub ), F Dowling for J Doyle (52 ), D Hyland for E Bolton (56 ), E O'Flaherty for M O'Flaherty (62 ), T O'Connor for S Johnston (69 )
Ref: M Higgins (Fermanagh )