The Kingdom hurlers have been making positive headlines all season. A Division 2A title, a near miss in a promotion play off with Offaly and a continued unbeaten campaign in this competition.
Mayo were the big underdogs in what was their first semi-final since the 2008 loss to Carlow and, in front of their biggest crowd of the season, they were caught cold in the first minute, with Shane Nolan raising the green flag.
That set a tone and by half-time, the margin was seemingly insurmountable, with Kerry 3-14 to 0-5 in front, and contemplating Croke Park.
It was ruthless stuff from the Munster side, every Mayo error was punished, with Darragh O’Connell excelling in this department, striking two long-range points from near the sidelines. Bryan Murphy and David Butler got into the act too while throughout the contest, John Egan’s free taking was exemplary.
However, fired up by their Limerick manager Christy Phillips and probably aided by Kerry lethargy, Mayo powered into the contest, outscoring Kerry 1-13 to 0-6 and even briefly raised hopes of an upset.
While the Kerry goals came at key junctures in the first half, with Padraig Boyle scoring on 20 minutes and David Butler blasting to the net late in the first half, their ability to turn Mayo over and fire quick points told before the break.
The second-half revival from the home side included a battling display from captain Kenny Feeney, who finished with nine points and a second half tour de force from Sean Regan, who notched 1-3.
Ultimately, Mayo came a goal short of making Kerry sweat but despite that, visiting manager Eamon Kelly will have plenty of ammunition to keep his squad focused ahead of Saturday’s final against Kildare.
Scorers for Mayo: K Feeney (0-9, 7fs), S Regan (1-3), D O’Brien (1f), B Hunt, C Charlton, F Boland, S Boland, B Higgins (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kerry: J Egan (0-7, 5fs), P Boyle, S Nolan (1-2 each), D Butler (1-1), D O’Connell (0-3), S Weir (0-2), T Flynn (1f), B Murphy, M Boyle (0-1 each).
MAYO: D O’Brien; A Brennan, Connolly, D Kenny; B Hunt, J Kennedy, P Barrett; C Charlton, G Nolan; S Hoban, K Feeney, S Regan; F Boland, D McDonnell, B Higgins.
Subs: C Scahill for McDonnell, S Boland for Hoban, E Collins for F Boland.
KERRY: T Flynn; B Murphy, T Murnane, D Fitzell; S Weir, D Dineen, T Casey; J Griffin, C Harty; D O’Connell, M Boyle, S Nolan; D Butler, P Boyle, J Egan.
Subs: K Carmody for Harty; P Lucid for Casey; B O’Leary for M Boyle; B O’Leary for P Boyle; G O’Grady for S Nolan.
Referee: John Keane.