Throw as many adjectives as you want at this game — most of them will stick.
What it certainly wasn’t was an occasion for the traditionalists. They’ll baulk at the 50-plus foul count, but even that did nothing to take away from either its entertainment or quality. Look back at the ample clean turnovers and realise these two teams know the tackle can be an art form.
What yesterday also showed is that not all draws are the same. In the majority of them, one team feels more hard done by than the other that they have to go and do it all again. This deadlock fell into the other category where both teams were as equally relieved as they were disappointed. Both got it so right but then they got it so wrong too.
More questions will be asked of Kerry, having been so masterful in carving out a four-point half-time lead, 0-9 to 0-5. Eight of their scores had come before Lee Keegan’s 34th minute red card for an attempted kick at Johnny Buckley for not releasing him after the Mayo defender had won a free. A couple of minutes prior to his dismissal, Keegan had made his first foray forward of the day and sent over a point that ended a 17-minute barren patch for Mayo.
Buckley had been quite magnificent in a first half where the ball hardly seemed to go out of play. His dispossessions were just as cleanly executed as most of his distribution. David Moran was excellent too in planting a Kerry flag in the middle third. Mayo didn’t help themselves being overly focused on shutting out James O’Donoghue who was marked by a tag team and yet managed to get on oodles of ball. It meant shifting their primary focus from midfield and they suffered as a result.
Seeing a player of Keegan’s acumen leave the field could only have blown more wind in Kerry’s sails and they went five up with an O’Donoghue point in the first minute of the second half.
By this stage Mayo, having had their hand forced, returned to a more conventional shape. After Alan Dillon and Cillian O’Connor from a free cut the margin to three, Stephen O’Brien and Paul Geaney combined well to set up Murphy for a score.
The next four scores were Mayo’s, though, and they levelled the game via an arrowed O’Connor effort from play in the 48th minute. Kerry had bossed the kick-out area for most of the first half but the concession of the score was sourced from a restart of theirs after Alan Dillon had put one point between the sides.
Twice, Kerry restored their lead via Donnchadh Walsh and O’Donoghue, the Legion corner-forward flashing the ball marginally over the bar in the 51st minute after preying on a handling error by Colm Boyle.
That was the last occasion Kerry were ahead, Andy Moran’s introduction combining with the initiative well and truly turning in Mayo’s favour. He levelled the game in the 54th minute after Marc Ó Sé slipped and Mayo’s goal came five minutes later. Peter Crowley was yellow-carded for fouling a marauding Donie Vaughan in the penalty area and O’Connor expertly found the net.
He also registered two follow-up points, the first on delivery from a Vaughan pass and the second a free after Anthony Maher had upended Aidan O’Shea.
Now five points down, Kerry could have been forgiven for pinching themselves.
“I think they got on top in the middle third,” said Eamonn Fitzmaurice. “Their runners started to get through us, Kevin McLoughlin went back wing-back after the sending off and in particular it generated the kind of momentum. At the start of their purple patch, he was breaking the line. Other Mayo lads were doing the same thing but he was definitely a big factor in them driving on the game from there.
“We then struggled to convert chances and get scores at the other end. We’d a couple of half chances that we didn’t take and we were just a bit off.”
There were also the facts that Kerry, even with one extra man, were allowing Mayo short kick-outs and kick passes through the middle. The prime example of that was Moran’s second in the 66th minute after Crowley had fisted a point for Kerry.
Mayo weren’t to score again, though, as Kieran Donaghy took over. He won a free for Bryan Sheehan to slot over and brought us back to 2006 with a sky-rising fetch from a diagonal David Moran ball to fed O’Donoghue for a goal.
Tom Cunniffe could have put Mayo two up again and likely the game out of Kerry’s reach only to shoot wide. Instead, another substitute Kieran O’Leary was able to level the affair for an eighth and final time.
O’Donoghue missed a chance he’d have been odds-on to convert and Sheehan was then presented with the unenviable task from 60m as Kerry finished the brighter while Mayo bodies fell to the sod with cramp. But James Horan had no doubt who was the better team after half-time. “I think there was one team that was strong out there in the second half.”
The other was just that in the first half. A replay in Limerick will hope to pull them apart next Saturday, but it won’t be easy.
Scorers for Kerry: J O’Donoghue (1-3), D Moran, D Walsh, P Crowley (0-2 each), S O’Brien, J Buckley, P Geaney (f), M Geaney, P Murphy, B Sheehan (f), K O’Leary (0-1 each).
Scorers for Mayo: C O’Connor (1-8, 1-0 pen, 0-5 frees), A Dillon (0-3), A Moran (0-2), L Keegan, C Boyle, J Doherty (0-1 each).
KERRY: B Kelly; P Murphy, A O’Mahony, S Enright; P Crowley, M Ó Sé, F Fitzgerald, A Maher, D Moran; D Walsh, J Buckley, S O’Brien; M Geaney, P Geaney, J O’Donoghue.
Subs for Kerry: Declan O’Sullivan for S O’Brien (inj 20), B Sheehan for M Geaney (43), K Young for A O’Mahony (52), K Donaghy for A Maher (59), BJ Keane for J Buckley (63), K O’Leary for D Walsh (67).
MAYO: R Hennelly; K Higgins, G Cafferkey, T Cunniffe; C Boyle, D Vaughan, L Keegan; J Gibbons, S O’Shea; K McLoughlin, A Freeman, J Doherty; C O’Connor, A O’Shea, A Dillon.
Subs for Mayo: T Parsons for J Gibbons (ht), A Moran for A Freeman (48), M Conroy for J Doherty (54), M Sweeney for A Dillon (63), K Keane for G Cafferkey (inj 70).
Red card: L Keegan (straight, 34).
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath).