The shot of the gable wall bearing the defiant message 'Newbridge or Nowhere' became one of the defining images of the otherwise forgettable 2018 All-Ireland football championship. 

Kildare were in terrible shape for most of 2018. They had been relegated to Division 3 that spring, deemed an unacceptably lowly environment for a county with their resources, and then suffered a humiliating loss to Carlow in the Leinster championship in Tullamore. 

Cian O'Neill's days as manager appeared numbered and it felt like his whole reign was simply waiting to be put out of its misery. 

The Lilywhites recuperated gradually with reasonably impressive away victories over Derry and Longford in the early rounds of the qualifiers.

But when they were drawn to play Mayo in Round 3 of the qualifiers, it looked like that would be that.

It's true that Stephen Rochford's team were stuttering and hobbling their way through the scenic route but this was nothing we hadn't seen previously and they usually wound up in the All-Ireland final.

Indeed, in 2017, Mayo had given probably their greatest All-Ireland final performance of modern times, only to be brutally pipped by Dublin once again. 

It seemed obvious that Kildare were in over their heads.

However, the draw hadn't been all bad. They had come out first and would have home advantage after two games on the road. 

They could certainly make life uncomfortable for Mayo - whose team were a touch on the aged side and were fond of living dangerously - in the tight, rickety surrounds of St Conleth's Park, a venue which had been in urgent need of an upgrade for some time now. The cramped and intimate environment would do the hosts no harm at all. 

But as Cian O'Neill told the Sunday Game this week, he had a nagging feeling from early in the week that this advantage was about to be whipped away from them. 

"I felt as the morning was going on that there was something rumbling in the background," O'Neill told RTÉ Sport.  

"I was in constant contact with Ger Donnelly from the county board. As soon as the draw was made, they were in contact with the police in Newbridge, trying to sort out what the health and safety issues would be, the Derby was on in Kildare that day, which is massive in Newbridge. 

"They were doing their work behind the scenes and then he said that Croke Park were on looking for us to nominate a second venue. 

"And I thought 'Okay, why?'. You know Newbridge is not the most salubrious of stadia. And I just said no, we're not going to nominate one. My fear was that something could happen in the background and they'd say, well you said you'd play somewhere, and then away we go. 

"This back and forth went on for the bones of three or four hours. Ger was the link to Croke Park. And I just refused to nominate one. I said we were happy with Newbridge, no more questions.

"And then it was only when it was announced (for Croke Park), which I think caught the county board as well as us off guard, that we realised we were in a battle here."

The GAA didn't let Kildare's chippiness deter them and at 1.30pm on the Monday, they formally fixed the Kildare-Mayo match to Croke Park, as part of a double header with Cavan-Tyrone.

Among neutrals, there was the standard groan of resignation accompanying this announcement. Mid-season games in front of an echoey, half-empty Croke Park had gotten a bad press in recent years.

For most counties, excepting a few real minnows, the novelty of playing in Jones's Road had long since worn off. 

It felt a long time since 2001 when Roscommon, as Connacht champions, kicked up a stink when their All-Ireland quarter-final meeting with Galway was fixed for MacHale Park, a complaint which ensured that all future last-eight games would be stuck in GAA headquarters. This was a different era.

Relevant to all this, though rarely spelled out by any of the combatants, was the running controversy over Dublin's use with Croke Park (the topic can't be ignored). A number of smaller Leinster counties - Longford providing the example from that summer - had been forced to eschew home combatants for financial benefit, instead opting for the privilege of being hammered out the gate in front of Hill 16. This particular 'sore point' formed part of the backdrop to the controversy and certainly guided the public's sympathies on the matter.   

No one expected Kildare to take it far as they did.

By late afternoon, word began to seep out that they weren't happy. Their resolve clearly startled the GAA authorities. 

O'Neill appeared live on the Six One News that night at very short notice, having been coaxed into doing so by RTÉ GAA correspondent Marty Morrissey. 

"I don't think anyone saw it going to the level it did. It literally was a phone call from Marty. It was that simple. I was in work at a quarter to six and he just rang.

"And Marty being the wily old reporter that he is, he probably knew he had something. And he said do you want to go on the Six One? 

"This was never considered. I was just trying to put a written statement together. And I said 'I'm here in work'. He said 'Can you get into the studio in Cork?'. I didn't even know there was a studio in Cork. 

"He said you have to be in there by 20 past 6 or it won't make the Six One. It wasn't pre-planned, there was no script. 

"It just happened. Jacket on, in the car, into Cork. I'd say between walking in the door and being in the room, it was about six or seven minutes. It just happened organically and grew legs from there." 


Soon, we were into dramatic talk of boycotts and Kildare being expelled from the championship. 

The GAA, badly misjudging the public mood, trotted out a strangely tin-eared and uncompromising 'you'll do as you're told' line for a few days.

Health and safety was initially advanced as a factor in the venue switch and when the grassroots were unresponsive to this, the GAA authorities cited the possibility of crowd trouble with so many supporters gathered outside the small ground. This explanation, unsurprisingly, went down even worse. 

By Wednesday afternoon, with talk of future DRA cases and Kildare insisting they'd offer a walkover rather than compromise, the GAA, with two days of shambolic PR behind them, gave in and fixed the match for Newbridge. 

Three days later, Kildare, evidently galvanised by the week's events, powered past Mayo, sending the westerners tumbling out of the championship before we'd reached July. It was the first time they had failed to reach at least the All-Ireland semi-final since 2010. 

"We probably wouldn't have got the traction as a group of players or a management or a county board unless the groundswell of support had come from across the country," said O'Neill.

"That was powerful and it was something no one could have anticipated - for something that was relatively small. It was a fixture argument.

"But it blew into something far bigger than that which I think did represent at that time a feeling within the grassroots of the GAA.

"To balance that, the GAA are  a massive organisation and it can be difficult to get every decision right for grassroots, underage, adult, sub-elite and then elite as well. So, it was a difficult situation."