Timing, as Mayo’s footballers might attest, is everything in sport.
The beaten All-Ireland and League finalists beat Kildare tonight in a round two qualifier in Croke Park despite never leading until the 65
th minute of a game that belatedly took off as both a contest and spectacle.
They put in a dangerously below-par first half but hung around long enough to test Kildare’s resolve.
When Oisín Mullin scored a levelling goal in the 56
th minute, the feeling was that for all their imperfections just now, Mayo had enough quality and experience to see this one through.
A speculative lob by Jordan Flynn in the last play of the match left us with a scoreline that seemed impossible, even in the moment it became official.
By the sixth minute in a spookily quiet Croke Park, Kildare had kicked two wides and Daniel Flynn had had a point attempt for a mark rebound back from an upright from less than 21 metres out.
Mayo, meanwhile, had missed two frees; Robbie Hennelly and Cillian O’Connor skewing their efforts, while James Carr’s shot from a mark - from closer range than Flynn’s before him - fell short.
Only Jack Carney had managed to kick a ball over the bar by then.
If the suspicion beforehand was that the game was taking place in the wrong venue and contested between two teams racked with self-doubt, the fraught, messy early passage did nothing to assuage.
When the teams eventually settled, it was Kildare who had more of their bearings.
James Horan has seen most things in his two reigns as Mayo manager but it’s unlikely he has seen many poorer halves of football from his team as the first this evening in Croke Park.
By half-time, they’d kicked just 0-5. Only one Mayo forward had scored from play.
Their wide count – five – would have been much higher only a scatter of further shots never made it as far as the endline.
Kildare’s midfield bossed the game. Daniel Flynn, Kildare’s lightening rod, played with far greater appreciation for the presence of his own team mates.
And still, they only led by 0-8 to 0-5 at half-time.
That gave Mayo’s leaders, Lee Keegan and Mullin, enough time to chip away at Kildare.
They did, but the play of the match was the first Mayo goal.
Mullin, who had his hands full with Flynn all day, played and one/two with Padraig O’Hora and then slammed past Aaron O’Neill.
The Kildare ‘keeper then underwent a terminal wobble on his kick-outs and Mayo sniffed blood.
James Horan’s team are into Monday’s All-Ireland quarter-final draw. You’d need a crystal ball to predict what they’ll do next.
SCORERS – Mayo: C O’Connor 0-3 (1f), O Mullin, J Flynn 1-0 each, L Keegan, K E McLaughlin, F Boland 0-2 each, D O’Connor, C Loftus, J Carney, D McHale 0-1 each. Kildare: J Hyland 0-6 (5f), K O’Callaghan 0-2, D Malone, K Feely, B McCormack, N Flynn, S Ryan, D Flynn 0-1 each.
MAYO: R Hennelly; E Hession, O Mullin, L Keegan; P Durcan, Coen, E McLaughlin; A O’Shea, M Ruane; D O’Connor, J Doherty, C Loftus; C O’Connor, J Carney, J Carr. Subs: F Boland for Doherty (29), D McHale for Carr (44), P O’Hora for Coen (46), J Flynn for O’Shea (60), A Orme for Carney (70)
KILDARE: A O’Neill; M O’Grady, S Ryan, R Houlihan; D Malone, D Hyland, K Flynn; K Feely, K O’Callaghan; F Conway, B McCormack, A Beirne; J Hyland, D Flynn, N Flynn. Subs: P Cribbin for Beirne (31), D Kirwan for N Flynn (55), P McDermott for Conway (71), B McLoughlin for J Hyland (72)
REF: D O’Mahony (Tipperary)