THE September Road ended for Mayo before June had given birth to July. This team has been travelling now for eight years and while we always knew the end of the road was coming sooner rather than later, I for one did not expect it to end under the white heat of the Newbridge sun on a Saturday evening.
I felt this was a team running on fumes at times but that still had enough gas in the tank to at least reach the Super 8s.
It was not a bad ending, especially when you lose to a better team, and without putting it forward as an excuse, the venue played a major part in securing Kildare a place at the fourth round table.
If Mayo supporters had been told that their team would score 0-19, they would have been more than happy to play every match against Kildare in Newbridge.
But the difference between these two sides was Kildare’s ability to score 0-21 and, unlike Mayo, their bench players were to have a major impact on the outcome of this game.
The Mayo bench, as we always feared, with the exception of Eoin O’Donoghue, never had the same impact.
Mayo’s experience was expected to kick in when things got tight with the winning line in sight but on this occasion the spark, which saw them blow Limerick away, just wasn’t there. Time has caught up with a few of them and while losing two of your best midfielders obviously had a disruptive effect on the team, their chances of making another final in 2018 seemed to be getting further away from them rather than coming closer with each passing game.
The other issue in this game was the build up to the match and the controversy, if not hysteria, that it created. Kildare stuck to their guns and are to be admired for that.
The 'Newbridge or Nowhere' slogan had become an anthem, a clarion call for the troops of Cian O’Neill to revolt, and the team fed off the energy it created in a packed St. Conleth’s Park.
The game was finely balanced at 0-17 apiece on the 60-minute mark but the energy was now surging through the legs of the Kildare men, who forged two ahead.
Paddy Durcan scored his fourth point to keep Mayo in the game but by the fourth minute of seven added on for injury time, Kildare had gone three ahead, leaving Mayo searching desperately for a goal that would never come, a late free from Andy Moran whizzing over the bar and the final whistle sending the Kildare supporters and players into a frenzy of celebrations.
Not only had they stared down the GAA who wanted this game to be played as part of double-header at headquarters, they had also taken the scalp of a team who had come oh-so-close to beating All-Ireland champions Dublin in two recent finals.
Kildare were a team shunned when they crashed to Carlow but they seem to have found a new leader in O’Neill, a man who learned his trade well both in Kerry and Mayo, serving under James Horan for a stint, and I’m sure he had a good insight into the Mayo psyche.
The slogans in Kildare said 'Kildare for Sam, Mayo for the Ham'. If they can build on this win it might be 'Cian for the Park' should Michael D. have a change of heart.
And so the party which began under James Horan and was continued by Stephen Rochford is over and it is time to take the bunting down. After all parties the mess has to be cleaned up, with some big decisions to be made by management and a few players who have given great service to the cause, but that is for the weeks ahead when time will have eased the mental and physical pain following this unexpected defeat.
Mayo players will return to their clubs, families and friends. A few may decide that there is a life outside playing for their county, especially those who have given it long years of dedicated service. The toil and sacrifices are not always matched by the reward in terms of silverware won but they have brought this county a lot of joy and that can only be really appreciated by those of us of a certain vintage who endured the barren years when 'Mayo God Help Us' was a slogan of ridicule for a downtrodden people.
But playing for their county is why players make those sacrifices in the first place and I think we can say, without any fear of contradiction, that this group of players have given Mayo supporters great value for money, some great memories, and filled the hearts of the county with pride over a number of great crusades which came up just short on more than one occasion.
Yes, they have broken our hearts at times but they have also thrilled us and made us proud as a county and the envy of so many others.
Without fear of contradiction, and with no disrespect to the men of 1936, ’50 and ’51, they we will go down as the best Mayo team never to have won an All-Ireland - so far.