KILDARE booked their place in the Vocational Schools All Ireland final following this comprehensive but hard won victory over Mayo in Ardagh, Co. Longford, on Saturday afternoon.
On an absolutely bitterly cold day that saw sun, rain, sleet and even a bit of snow at times make conditions all but impossible for the players, Kildare were worth their nine point win but had to fight tooth and nail before finally booking their final place against Cork, a game fixed for next Saturday but venue and time not yet confirmed.
For team boss Declan Cryan this was a victory for hard work, endeavour, and a never-say-die attitude that at times looked unlikely, especially in the opening half when playing with the elements in their favour struggled to cope with a big Mayo side, despite getting off to the perfect start.
Played in Ardagh, a quaint beautifully manicured heritage village some ten miles from Longford that reminded one of days long gone where to this day the local store still closes for lunch between 1 and 2 in the afternoon.
Not a spot that has seen many All Ireland semi finals in any grade I would imagine but the members of the local club were out in force to ensure everything went smoothly on the day.
Kildare opened brightly, as the rain soon turned to sleet with a hint of snow, with a Neil Flynn point after two minutes. The same player converted a free and when Wayne Fitzpatrick opened his account on ten Kildare led 0-3 to no score with Mayo at that stage struggling get into the game.
Flynn, representing Maynooth Post Primary, converted another free to extend the lead and coming up to midway Kildare looked well on their way when Aaron Bannon Whelan gained possession in the middle found Kelvan McNally inside and the Cross & Passion Kilcullen man made no mistake from close range to make it 1-4 to 0-0.
As the wind picked up and the sleet continued to fall conditions were far from ideal for players (and spectators) alike, Mayo suddenly upped their game as if realising if they didn’t this game would be gone from their grasp even before the half time break.
Full forward Liam Irwin, a player who impressed throughout, opened his account with a free on sixteen.
Mayo began to get the upper hand around the middle and took control for the next ten minutes or so as Kildare seemed to lose their way. Irwin added two points as the boys from the West looked a completely different side to what we had witnessed in the opening quarter.
Mid fielder Robert Fadden added Mayo’s fourth to reduce the deficit to just a goal and they were somewhat unlucky on a couple of occasions scoring opportunities coming their way but not availed of.
With half time approaching Kildare steadied the ship somewhat with centre back Bryan Nolan (Castledermot CC) getting to grips with the situation but despite two scoring opportunities late in the half that came Kildare’s way the score remained unchanged at the break with The Lilies leading 1-4 to 0-4.
It was a lead that certainly did not look sufficient with Mayo about to recommence with the elements now in their favour.
It was Kildare, however, who opened the brightest when Gary Savage was fouled after 32 minutes and Wayne Fitzpatrick made no mistake to increase the lead.
Mayo hit back when Kildare full back and captain, Thomas O’Connell was adjudged to have pushed his immediate opponent and Liam Irwin did the rest from the placed ball.
A similar incident followed when Evan Dempsey fouled his man and Irwin left just three between the sides with 42 minute gone.
Incredibly that was to be the last score for Mayo as Kildare gained the upper hand around the middle with Bannon-Whelan and Savage gaining control, Nolan dominating at no. 6 and Wayne Fitzpatrick getting himself more and more into the game.
Fitzpatrick was somewhat unlucky when gaining possession down the right wing, cutting inside before hitting a shot to the Mayo keeper’s left. The effort brought out the best in Shane Strogen who got his hand to the shot and while the rebound was met by Fitzpatrick again this time his first time effort when right of the upright and wide.
Two minutes later and the ball was finally in the back of the Mayo net. A high ball in from Wayne Fitzpatrick was flicked to the net by full forward Emmet O’Keeffe which put a bit of daylight between the sides, Kildare now leading by six.
That goal seemed to really knock the stuffing out of Mayo as Kildare added on points from Fitzpatrick (free) along with Emmet O’Keeffe and mid fielder Gary Savage to seal victory on a score line of Kildare 2-9 Mayo 0-6.
Under the severe conditions both teams are to be complemented for giving it their all. Kildare fully deserved their win and while the final score line may flatter them a little nevertheless they are in the All Ireland final on merit and if they can play to their full potential will go very close indeed against Munster champions Cork.
Best for Kildare on the day was keeper David Byrne who did all that was expected of him, full back Thomas O’Connell had a ding dong battle with Liam Irwin (Mayo’s best player by far) while Bryan Nolan grew in confidence as the game went on.
Mid fielders lost their way somewhat in the latter part of the opening half but ended up well on top while up front Fitzpatrick, Neill Flynn and full forward Emmet O’Keeffe all did exceptionally well.
Kildare, Wayne Fitzpatrick 0-3 (3 frees), Emmet O’Keeffe 1-1, Kelvan McNally 1-0, Neil Flynn 0-3 (2 frees), Gary Savage 0-2.
Mayo, Liam Irwin 0-5 (3 frees), Robert Fadden 0-1.
David Byrne (Castledermot); Jake Kennedy (St Paul’s Monasterevin), Thomas O’Connell cpt. (Rathangan), Evan Dempsey (St. Farnan’s Prosperous); Cian O’Donoghue (Maynooth), Brian Nolan Castledermot CC), Eoin Farrelly (Confey CC); Aaron Bannon-Whelan (Rathangan), Gary Savage (Confey CC); Ryan Casey (St. Farnans Prosperous), Wayne Fitzpatrick (St Paul’s Monasterevin), Kelvin McNally (C&P Kilcullen); Neil Flynn (Maynooth PP); Emmet O’Keeffe (Castledermot CC), Cathal Jennings (Confey CC). Subs: Conor Davin (Maynooth Post Primary) for Eoin Farrelly (half time); Dylan Hannon (St. Farnans Prosperous) for Kelvan McNally (57 minute); Leon McCabe (Rathangan) for Neil Flynn (59 minute); Rob Maguire (Maynooth PP) for Evan Dempsey (60minute).
Shane Strogen; Sean Staunton, Darren Keane, Jason Murphy; Josh Healy (captain), Joe Geraghty, Noel McLoughlin; Paraic Holmes, Robert Fadden; Seamus Cox, Darren Carey, Diarmuid O’Connor; Finian McNamara, Liam Irwin, Kevin Carey. Subs: Darren Flannery for Robert Fadden (half time); Conor Finnerty for Finian McNamara (40 minute); Derek Langan for Darren Keane (55 minute); Sean O’Malley for Kevin Carey (60 minute); Brendan Rowland for Seamus Cox (60 minute).
Fergal Kelly (Longford).