The flip chart in the Mayo dressing room after Saturday night’s gritty win in Tralee was light on to-do’s for this week’s training.
The critical interrogation of their offensive arsenal will continue, of course, but their stomach for the fight remains a thing of wonder, something substantial. On Saturday, they had more savvy, shape, and at least as strong an appetite as their hosts, who couldn’t quibble about the end of their unbeaten Division 1 run. Not that the Kerry
manager, Peter Keane, will be unduly fretting, even if it was his first little sting of defeat as an inter-county manager, stretching back to 2016 and the all-conquering Kerry minors.
His 2019 freshmen have been over-achieving, and a thimble of reality is no bad thing. Their reaction in Dr Hyde Park, next Sunday, will be interesting. If Kerry and Mayo win their final games, they’ll renew hostilities in the Division One decider.
Cillian O’Connor and Cian Hanley are a bit away yet, but Lee Keegan and Andy Moran were introduced as second-half subs in Tralee, and rookies Matty Ruane and Fionn McDonagh showed they’ve got game. Centre back Michael Plunkett kept Sean O’Shea as far out of harm’s way as anyone this season. And Aidan O’Shea delivered the night’s most commanding performance. They haven’t gone away, you know…
“What we are happiest with is our work-rate, our tackling, the 50-50s, the ball on the ground,” purred James Horan afterwards. “Some of those elements were very strong, and we got a deserved win. Some of our tackling, when it needed to be clean and clear, was really good. We are doing a lot of work on not conceding soft frees and with Sean O’Shea around, we needed to be careful.”
Mayo has won four of its last five games in the Kingdom (and drawn the fifth), but the template for this success was of a more recent vintage, reckoned defender Chris Barrett.
“We were disappointed how we finished out the game against Galway, last time out. When it was in the melting pot (tonight), we managed the ball a lot better, and were a bit more composed.”
Elaborated Horan: “We identified a number of things we knew we had to work on, knowing, if we got better at those, we’d be a very strong team. That’s what the league is for us, about winning as many games as we can and develop as strong as we can. Each week we play, it’s a test of our improvement.”
It was only when Ruane ghosted in behind the cover, off a McLoughlin spot, for the game-breaking goal, in the 67th minute, that Kerry’s ambitions of a sixth successive win were fully extinguished. Were they unlucky not to pull something out of it, Peter Keane wondered aloud, afterwards? “Maybe. Did we deserve to? Maybe not.”
About right. The newbies, like Dara Moynihan and Gavin O’Brien, didn’t fire this time, defensively they weren’t as sharp, and the handling and link play was, at times, sloppy and hesitant. Up-front, inventiveness was sporadic, at best. It wasn’t all the weather’s fault.
Keane has conjured a plethora of combinations and pegs for different holes and though they didn’t slot in seamlessly on this occasion, the Kerry manager has stressed, ad nauseum, that the league is a journey of discovery for the new management. They are unlikely to have a Dr Crokes input, but a point from their trip to Roscommon will still deliver an unlikely league final spot. Keane, for one, doesn’t believe Mayo’s race is run.
Indeed, Mayo set up their base-camp in that opening stretch, going three points to the good before the wind and hailstones all but blew them out towards Ballymac. As a down payment on their second-half starting position, it was significant, but the stats show that both sides claimed four points against the elements. Though Mayo leaked two points just before the break to give Kerry a 0-7 to 0-4 interval lead, James Horan can’t have been displeased with the return for his players’ toil.
Mayo were pragmatic and always tidy, and, once again, Kerry’s goal threat was negligible. In that regard, Mayo constructed the game’s two openings, Ruane’s first effort blocked by Kerry keeper, Brian Kelly, his second try converted with aplomb. Jason Doherty had edged them in front, before Kevin McLoughlin set in train the raid up the open-terrace side, which culminated in Ruane’s net gain. Kerry’s cover was conspicuous by its absence.
Some 10,218 had come to see a show and no one was giving up on another late spurt from the Kingdom, when referee Niall Cullen signalled six additional minutes. Sean O’Shea and the returning James O’Donoghue claimed points, but there was no ace up the sleeve this time. The hosts lost Tommy Walsh to a shoulder problem in the final quarter, but, again, the Strand Road man was proving his worth at the point of the attacking arrow. Trying to mix up a cocktail of Walsh, David Clifford, Paul Geaney, and James O’Donoghue… that’s Peter Keane’s next trick.
Scorers for Kerry:
S O’Shea (0-6, 3 frees, 1 45), K McCarthy (0-2), T Walsh (0-1, mark), D O’Connor, J O’Donoghue (0-1 each).
Scorers for Mayo:
J Doherty (0-5, 4 frees), M Ruane (1-1), K McLoughlin (0-2), F Boland, F McDonagh (0-1 each)
B Kelly; P Crowley, B Ó Beaglaoich, T. O’Sullivan; G Crowley, P Murphy, T Morley; J Barry, M Griffin; D Moynihan, S O’Shea, G O’Brien; K McCarthy, T Walsh, S O’Brien.
Subs for Kerry:
D O’Connor for McCarthy (46); T.Ó Sé for Moynihan (48); J O’Donoghue for Walsh (58); A Spillane for Griffin (66); C Geaney for O’Brien (69)
D Clarke; C Barrett, S Coen, B Harrison; K Higgins, M Plunkett, D Vaughan; M Ruane, A O’Shea; F McDonagh, C Loftus, D O’Connor; K McLaughlin, J Doherty, J Durcan.
Subs for Mayo:
F Boland for Loftus (50); A Moran for Durcan (56); L Keegan for Vaughan (63); C Boyle for Plunkett (69); R Hennelly for Clarke (70).
N Cullen (Fermanagh)