Lilies in like Flynn... but fail to finish
Monaghan 0-15 Kildare 1-1
After the giddy excitement of Newbridge and Navan, and even the glorious sub-plot of the U20s against Kerry, Kildare football came crashing back to earth in Croke Park yesterday.
Not with a resounding thud - in a battle of inches, they only lost by two points.
But they could harbour no real complaints afterwards and, in fairness to Lily manager Cian O'Neill, he was left to bemoan their own shortcomings rather than begrudge Monaghan a deserved victory.
O'Neill knows Kildare can only save themselves from here on. To defy the sceptics who doubted their Super 8 prospects, even before this day-one defeat, they must now topple a cock-a-hoop Galway in Newbridge next Sunday - for starters.
Even then, they must launch a winning raid on Kerry soil against a team that cannot afford another loss after yesterday's shock to Galway. All of which sounds unlikely in the extreme, especially if Kildare deliver an errant repeat of a performance that started brightly (with a wonder goal from Daniel Flynn) and never achieved such thrilling heights thereafter.
"It's definitely one that got away," O'Neill lamented. "It was nip and tuck the whole way through from the very first score, and I think it was always going to be won by the team that made the least amount of mistakes - and that was certainly Monaghan."
As he grappled for explanations that went beyond Kildare's more pronounced difficulty in coping with a slippery ball, their manager suggested "mental fatigue" after their qualifier run as a possible reason.
"Physically we were matching each other right the way through. When you make the amount of unforced errors, handling errors, it's more a reflection of not being physically tired but just mentally," he argued.
"I think our route to this point probably took more out of us, without any disrespect to the route that Monaghan had. They were definitely sharper in some of those execution parts, even in the rucks, the 50-50s."
But he stressed that Kildare can't be "too disappointed" because the turnaround is so quick. "We need to get ourselves back on track for that," he said. Having trailed by 0-10 to 1-5 at half-time, Kildare fought back to parity on three occasions, the latest of which came via a Kevin Feely free on 62 minutes.
But Monaghan had the last laugh because they were more assured when it mattered. Three of their best performers, midfielder Niall Kearns, two-time All Star Conor McManus and 'keeper Rory Beggan (a long-range insurance free) landed their last three points in the home straight whereas Kildare were confined to an injury-time riposte from sub Eamonn Callaghan.
There were other reasons to explain Kildare's defeat: poor decision-making; a tendency to overplay the ball when a shot seemed on; and their inability to get Flynn more into the game during the second half.
From early on, it was clear that that Johnstownbridge flyer was their putative match-winner. His sixth minute goal, dinked beyond Beggan after leaving two would-be tacklers in his wake, rounded off a wonderful pitch-length move. Ten minutes later, he looked poised for a second - this time off his left - but Beggan brilliantly diverted over.
Flynn wouldn't score again, and too many forward colleagues failed to make any impact. All of which leaves Monaghan dreaming of finally breaking through that last-eight glass ceiling. Win in Clones on Sunday and they'll be all but there, leaving Kerry for dead in the process.