But you would also have thought Kerry beating Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland final and taking Donegal down a peg or two this year would have been bankers if you followed the Kingdom down through the years. So this All-Ireland JFC final on Saturday in Ennis’s Cusack Park had an extra dimension to it. Was Kerry football in as bad a state, as some commentators have made it out to be, or was this just a blip year?
Just 20 minutes into this contest all was right with Kerry football’s image on the national stage again. Mayo were put away with ease, the Kingdom playing the game with their traditional pomp and skill.
For manager Sean Moynihan that was critical. It was important to claim the title, but more so to do it in the Kerry way. Now he hopes his players will be rewarded for their efforts under incoming manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice. “I don’t know if the next Kerry manager was here or not but these lads are definitely going to be around,” he said.
“The county championship is coming up now and there are definitely guys there under the proper supervision and proper structures on the inter-county scene that can seriously develop.
“They are seriously hungry, ambitious and can play football and that’s what we’re looking for. In my opinion they play it in the proper way, moving it fast and direct with no blanket defence or any of that carry on. It’s about playing football.
“We expected they [Mayo] would be strong so we used our strengths with forwards that can score. It’s exceptionally simple. Move it fast, stay out of the tackle and get the ball forward to guys who can score. That’s what we did and we’re delighted to get over the line.”
In truth it was a mismatch. Mayo took the field looking like a modern inter-county senior team. Tall, athletic and strong they had been training hard for this competition.
Kerry looked very much the junior outfit compared to them. Their training patterns irregular due to commitments elsewhere but once the ball was thrown in they used their pace and skill to pull the Connacht champions apart.
The speed of James Walsh and Marcus Mangan in the half-back line threw the Mayo team into retreat while Andrew Garnett and Alan O’Sullivan ensured a plentiful supply of ball. The attack was ruthless. Niall O’Mahony kicked points from all angles, Niall Ó Sé and Paul O’Donoghue picked up all the breaks while Michael ‘Stam’ O’Donoghue and David Callaghan pulled the full-back line apart.
The major difference though was Listowel Emmet’s Conor Cox, who was unmarkable. Even though he missed a first-half penalty, his contribution deserved special mention from the manager.
“It’s a great sign of Conor Cox,” said Moynihan.
“He missed a penalty and two frees but ended up with eight points so it showed great character and savage belief in the lads.”
A late Mayo rally before the break made it 0-9 to 0-3, but the westerners’ attack had completely failed and it would be the 40 minutes before they kicked a point from play through senior panellist Michéal Forde. The Ballycastle native was the sole source of resistance and his foraging runs down the left wing in the second-half kickstarted a revival.
When Simon Cloherty found Joe Kelly with a pinpoint pass to set up a goal the gap had reduced to four and we were on the verge of a real game. Stam O’Donoghue, O’Mahony, Cox and Colm Kerins points ensured it would be a mere footnote.
The mini-revival quashed; the game petered out and Kerry were champions for the first time since 2006.
“The team were excellent. We’re just delighted. It will take a while to let it settle in. It’s a journey we started and every time you go out you don’t know what to expect but look it we’re here now as champions.”
Scorers for Kerry: C Cox 0-8 (2f), N O’Mahony 0-5, D O’Callaghan 0-3 (1f), M O’Donoghue, A O’Sullivan, C Kerins 0-1 each.
Scorers for Mayo: E McManamon 0-3fs, J Kelly 1-0, M Forde, O Quinn, R McNamara (f), Paul Mannion (45) 0-1 each.
Subs for Kerry: E Hickson for Sherwood (7-10, blood), E Hickson for Quirke (35), M Brennan for Garnett (50), C Kerins for O’Callaghan (54), B Poff for P O’Donoghue (54), E Walsh for Brennan (inj, 60), P Corridan for Mangan (60).
Subs for Mayo: M Moran for Feeney (18), J Kelly for McNamara (29), C Horan for P McManamon (39), G McDonagh for Cloherty (54).
Referee: M Condon (Waterford)