JACK O’CONNOR suggested the decisive penalty might have been poetic justice for misdemeanours against Kerry in Tralee last Sunday week.
James Horan described it as “an unbelievable decision” while his goalkeeper Robert Hennelly felt he was charged by Darran O’Sullivan.
Whatever the view, nobody could dispute that this game in Castlebar swung six minutes from the end of normal time when referee Maurice Deegan adjudged that the Mayo goalkeeper, making his league debut, had fouled the ion-rushing O’Sullivan.
Before Bryan Sheehan struck home, Mayo were much better than their 0-7 to 0-6 advantage. With their young full-back line — featuring the Feeney brothers, Richie and Alan — belying their inexperience and Alan Dillon orchestrating matters in the half-forward line, it seemed they were about to kick on.
But they never did. Instead O’Sullivan was allowed to run straight at goal and looked to have lost control of the ball before colliding with Hennelly.
Sheehan found the net from the spot and Mayo’s bubble burst, the St Mary’s man adding another score in injury-time before fellow substitute Kieran O’Leary followed his example as Marc Ó Sé expertly led a game of keep-ball to kill off the affair.
O’Connor offered a wry smile when asked about the penalty call afterwards. “There are some decisions that go for you and there are some that don’t. We thought there were a few that went against us in the first round of the league (against Cork) and maybe that was one for us, I’m not sure.”
Horan questioned Deegan’s judgement but qualified it by criticising his defence for allowing the situation to happen. “I’d be interested to see it on tv but it should have been a free out for barging. It was an unbelievable decision, to be honest.
“But we had a chance to clear the ball before Darran O’Sullivan got it. That’s the root cause.”
Over 35 frees went Kerry’s way (23 for Mayo) in a game when the poor pitch and a cross-wind militated against any quality football. Kerry actually started the better, going up by 0-3 to 0-0 after 13 minutes, and could have doubled that lead but for Hennelly denying David Geaney a goal chance in the 19th minute.
Ronan McGarrity registered Mayo’s first score a minute later and it settled them. Two more points quickly followed and they traded another brace with Geaney and the sides went in level at the break, 0-5 apiece.
The cross-wind was causing problems for both sides but Kerry’s ball retention around the centre was poor after a bright start. Kieran Donaghy, who had a direct hand in three of Kerry’s first-half scores, was reassigned to midfield in the 25th minute.
Both sides were guilty of contributing to a comedy of errors towards the end of the half when Colm Cooper and Eoin Brosnan inexplicably kicked into Mayo hands only for the ball to come straight back to Kerry.
If the visitors didn’t know they were riding their luck, they did just before the break when goalkeeper Brendan Kealy cleared straight to Aidan Kilcoyne who somehow managed to fist the ball wide.
For almost 30 minutes of the second-half, Mayo were the more convincing team. Resolute in defence but erratic up-front, they were keeping Kerry at bay but never managing to exert their dominance on the scoreboard.
Twice, Kerry pegged back one-point deficits through Geaney and O’Sullivan but Kevin Douglas’ 53rd minute point was the score that put them ahead before the controversial penalty decision.
Afterwards Horan was more concerned about taking the pluses from the game. “We played better overall than we did the first day, even though the second-half was more spectacular against Down. But overall the curve is going the right way.”
Apart from the two points gained, O’Connor was delighted with Brosnan’s performance in his first game back since coming out of inter-county retirement. “I thought he was outstanding for a man playing his first game, especially in the first-half when he was tremendous. He played across the line like he was there all his life and that’s a big plus.”
O’Connor always had a spot in mind for Brosnan but didn’t have to persuade him too much about returning after watching him shine against Nemo Rangers in the Munster club final.
“It’s all about timing. Maybe I got the timing right because obviously he was disappointed after losing the Crokes game and I just went up and watched that game in Mallow and said to myself that this man is going as well as I ever saw him in my life.
“Life is short and your football career is short so why not make use of it, especially with Gooch (his clubmate) captain this year.”
Scorers for Kerry: B Sheehan 1-1 (1-0 penalty); D Geaney 0-4 (two frees); D O’Sullivan 0-2; C Cooper (free), K O’Leary 0-1 each.
Subs for Kerry: A Maher for Moran (45); D Casey for O’Driscoll and K Young for Reidy (both 51); B Sheehan for Geaney (60); K O’Leary for Sheehan (blood sub 61-64); O’Leary for O’Sullivan (72).
Scorers for Mayo: A Campbell 0-2 (two frees); R McGarrity, M Ronaldson (free), A Moran, A O’Shea, K McLoughlin, N Douglas 0-1 each.
Subs for Mayo: N Douglas for Ronaldson (42); T Parsons for Gibbons (58); J Doherty for Douglas (63).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).
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