Kerry dance a merry jig around weary Mayo

Kerry dance a merry jig around weary Mayo
Shane Ryan of Kerry blocks a shot on goal by Donal Vaughan of Mayo. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Kerry 1-22 - 0-15 Mayo

For well over an hour before throw-in, local group Celtic Steps, situated on a makeshift stage in front of the main stand, entertained the building crowd with the finest of traditional Irish music. 

And it continued long after the football replaced the fiddles and flutes as Kerry danced a merry jig around their tired and tatty opponents to stretch to 31 games the county’s unbeaten championship run on home soil.

In the middle of last week, former Mayo forward Billy Joe Padden predicted the county would play “heavy metal football” against the Kingdom and while that couldn’t have been further from the truth such were the many bum notes they struck here, the thousands of Mayo supporters who travelled south meant Killarney was rocking from early in the morning.

There was a carnival atmosphere about the place, exactly what Páraic Duffy had envisaged when drawing up the Super 8s concept, although the afternoon soon morphed into a crucifixion for the visitors in the crowd of 31,312, the likes of which they have not borne witness to since the 2006 All-Ireland final mauling against Kerry. 

A malfunctioning restart, an ageing full-back line ripped apart, and a complete wipeout at midfield all contributed to the county’s first double-digit championship reverse in 13 years.

For Kerry, victory preserved an unbeaten record on home soil that goes back to 1995. 

A fair few of the current crop weren’t even born when Kerry last lost a championship game at home and they certainly didn’t want the blot on their copybook as having been the shower who couldn’t keep this unbeaten run intact.

They had the game won by half-time, ahead by 0-15 to 0-6, Peter Keane’s charges so ravenous in taking a wrecking ball to the momentum which Mayo had built up in recent weeks and turfing it out onto Lewis Road.

Indeed, so high was the Kerry press in that opening half that a couple of the Mayo defenders were fortunate not to also find themselves out on Lewis Road such was the pressure being applied by those in green and gold.

The Kerry management had clearly identified that goalkeeper David Clarke favours a short, chipped restart to one of his defenders, with Mayo then building from the back. 

Yesterday, he was rarely given the opportunity to go short and in one instance where he sought to do so late in the first-half, the ball squirted out over the sideline.

Mayo did manage to retrieve possession on this occasion, but having worked the ball upfield and engineered a free, Cillian O’Connor’s effort came back down off the post. 

Kerry pounced upon the breaking ball, the play ending with a Seán O’Shea point. The ensuing kickout was again lost, Paul Geaney’s subsequent goal drive flying over the crossbar.

This brace left Kerry 0-14 to 0-5 clear on 30 minutes, completing a 22-minute burst where they outscored their opponents by 0-10 to 0-1.

Clarke, of course, wasn’t the sole man in green and red in trouble, the Mayo full-back line having no answer to the pace and movement of Geaney, James O’Donoghue, and, in particular, David Clifford.

Brendan Harrisson began proceedings on Clifford but hardly lasted a quarter of an hour before being switched off the All-Star corner-forward. 

The 20-year old was responsible for two of Kerry’s opening four points and although Cillian O’Connor and Fionn McDonagh sniped back-to-back white flags to reduce the margin to 0-4 to 0-3, Kerry galloped into the distance thereafter.

Following a converted Seán O’Shea free, the hosts won the resultant restart after Clarke was forced long. Geaney played a quick ball into Clifford, he was fouled, with O’Shea again obliging. 

A third O’Shea free on the bounce put four between them, 0-7 to 0-3, and it mattered not a jot that Kerry squandered 1-3 in the subsequent minutes. 

If anything, it highlighted the volume of chances they were creating.

The healthy supply stemmed from their total dominance in the middle third where Kerry harassed their opponents with unrelenting ferocity. 

The pick of the scores in establishing that earlier mentioned nine-point gap was David Moran stepping back inside Donie Vaughan and planting the ball over the bar with his right foot.

Left half-forward Stephen O’Brien was busy as ever, notching three from play. 

The positioning of Gavin White in the same line was unusual.

No question but he is more effective bursting from deep, as Tom O’Sullivan did countless times. 

O’Shea’s kicking, as they say on Love Island, is what it is, but let it not take from his work-rate and he was to be found back on his own 20-metre line, well into the second-half, stripping the ball off Darren Coen.

The latter’s 32nd-minute point was Mayo’s first in 16 minutes. 

Yes, the Kerry full-back line, who were rightly criticised following the Munster final, nullified the threat of Mayo’s leading marksmen, but they were helped no end by the poor quality of the ball being sent in.

As the intensity dipped upon the change of ends, the Mayo forwards found more pockets of space opening up. 

But the goals they so desperately craved were not forthcoming. 

Cillian O’Connor may have eclipsed Colm Cooper as the championship’s all-time leading scorer when taking his tally to 23-285, but he was unable to best Shane Ryan from the penalty spot late on as the ‘keeper tipped O’Connor’s drive over the bar.

The Kerry goal arrived on 57 minutes, yet another scorching O’Brien run ending with Geaney palming home.

This was the first time Mayo have lost in Kerry under Horan’s stewardship. Injuries are beginning to hurt them as Paddy Durcan’s absence was sorely felt. 

One sole positive was the 35 minutes of football Seamie O’Shea got.

In the pursuit of Dublin, it was said that little separated Kerry and Mayo. That theory went out the window yesterday. 

The questions now are: Can Mayo recover, can Kerry replicate this effort at GAA HQ over the coming weeks.

Scorers for Kerry:

S O’Shea (0-7, 0-6 frees), D Clifford (0-7, 0-2 frees); P Geaney (1-2); S O’Brien (0-3); J O’Donoghue, G O’Sullivan, D Moran (0-1 each).

Scorers for Mayo:

C O’Connor (0-6, 0-3 frees, 0-1 pen); D Coen (0-3); A Moran (0-2); C Treacy, F Boland, L keegan, F McDonagh (0-1 each).

KERRY:

S Ryan; T Morley, J Foley, T O’Sullivan; P Murphy, S Enright, G Crowley; D Moran, A Spillane; G White, S O’Shea, S O’Brien; J O’Donoghue, P Geaney, D Clifford.

Subs:

D Moynihan for O’Donoghue (HT); G O’Sullivan for Enright (50); D O’Connor for Spillane (58); B Ó Beaglaoich for Foley (63); M Burns for Geaney (68); M Griffin for Crowley (71).

MAYO:

D Clarke; B Harrison, C Barrett, K Higgins; S Coen, L Keegan, C Boye; D Vaughan, A O’Shea; F McDonagh, K McLoughlin, J Doherty; J Carr, D Coen, C O’Connor.

Subs:

S O’Shea for McDonagh (HT); A Moran for Carr (47); C Treacy for McLoughlin (48); F Boland for Coen (52); J McCormack for Keegan (60); E O’Donoghue for Barrett (65).

Referee:

S Hurson (Tyrone).

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