Eamonn Fitzmaurice suffered his third opening Division 1 defeat as manager. Mayo beat Kerry for the fourth consecutive occasion in this competition. And yet what exactly did it all amount to? Should Kerry lose in Celtic Park next Sunday, let’s hope the last two championships have taught us that the All-Ireland champions and crisis should not be mentioned in the same breath.
And while the game did ensure Pat Holmes’ second coming alongside Noel Connelly began in style, there wasn’t much given away about their blueprint for Mayo.
Their men did succeed in soaking up Kerry pressure and quickly converting it into fruitful attacks but against such mild-mannered opposition, it’s a qualified endorsement.
A look back at Mayo two goals would highlight unforgivable flat-footedness from the home side. Alan Freeman in the first half should never have been allowed to burrow his way across the end-line before he found the net. Kevin McLoughlin’s 52nd minute score, which virtually confirmed a Mayo victory and tasty in its execution, was the sum of an almost uncontested passage of play.
Aside from a few tetchy moments, what was offered up between this pair had as much in common with what they provided in Croke Park and the Gaelic Grounds as the sun that graced those occasions and the snow that blanketed the overlooking MacGillycuddy Reeks yesterday.
Shane Enright’s late withdrawal meant just six from each team were on the field for throw-in yesterday although Mayo’s half a dozen looked sharper than their Kingdom rivals.
Donal Vaughan and Seamus O’Shea looked a fine complement in midfield although the Kerins O’Rahillys’ partnership of David Moran and Tommy Walsh gave them a more honest battle in the second half.
Walsh, in his first appearance for Kerry since the 2009 All-Ireland final, caught two Mayo kick-outs one after the other shortly after coming on at half-time.
He later moved into the full-forward line but was replaced late on after picking up a leg injury.
Moran too looked good claiming ball but found himself surrounded with no way out on too many occasions by the more beaverish Mayo middle third. It was their endeavour, particularly in the first half, that saw them best Kerry, especially on their own kick-outs.
Kerry had put together a 0-3 to 0-1 lead by the 19th minute, the early stages having been held up for a period due to the troubling injury to Evan Regan, who had scored Mayo’s opener. Jason Doherty added another for Mayo before Freeman forced his way past Mark Griffin to slot the ball past Brendan Kealy. Four minutes, Regan’s replacement, Michael Conroy, then availed of a Keith Higgins break from a misplaced Bryan Sheehan hand-pass to dissect the posts. Vaughan found his range in the 31st minute and Mayo had established a four-point lead. Barry John Keane ended a painful 13-minute barren patch for Kerry with a fisted score only for Mayo to reel off another hat-trick of points before the break to lead 1-7 to 0-4.
After a Seamus O’Shea score, points from Michael Geaney and Keane followed by a David Moran 45 and a Keane free gave most of the 8,123 crowd (although Mayo were supported in numbers) something to shout about.
By now Kerry had jettisoned their first-half tactic of trying to isolate Paul Geaney on Kevin Keane in the inside line.
“We felt we would try it,” remarked Eamonn Fitzmaurice. “Paul is strong over his head. To be fair to Kevin Keane, he did very well. He was strong in the air and it didn’t work for us. We possibly didn’t vary it and it wasn’t coming off. We’re ring-rusty and that decision-making and (lack of) chemistry I keep referring to, hopefully we can improve on it.”
Just when Kerry looked to have purpose, they lost focus when Mayo won a free 30 metres out. Perhaps assuming a shot at goal, the free found Mark Ronaldson who was given too much space to find McLoughlin and he placed his shot perfectly to a top corner.
Mayo joint-manager Noel Connelly acknowledged it couldn’t have come at a better time. “Alan had a lot to do but he showed great composure,” Connelly said of his team’s first goal. “Kevin is always capable of scoring a goal like that. We needed it at the time.”
Mayo followed it up with Conroy’s fourth point and saw out the remainder without Rob Hennelly ever being troubled. They themselves came close to a third goal when Mikey Sweeney’s pass across the goal went untouched in the 65th minute. By that stage, several Kerry fans had already or were leaving the premises but not too despondent. Mayo’s meanwhile enjoyed the scoreline, yet not too triumphantly. Each set mindful they were treated as much as subjected to a phoney battle.
Scorers for Kerry: BJ Keane (0-4, 1 free); P Geaney, D Moran (1 45, 1 free) (0-2 each); K O’Leary, M Geaney (0-1 each).
Scorers for Mayo: M Conroy (0-4); J A Freeman, K McLoughlin (1-0 each); J Doherty (0-3, 2 frees); E Regan, D Vaughan, S O’Shea, D O’Connor (0-1 each).
KERRY: B Kealy; M Griffin, P Kilkenny, F Fitzgerald; J Lyne, J Sherwood, P Murphy; D Moran, B Sheehan; M Geaney, K O’Leary, J Buckley; S O’Brien, P Geaney, BJ Keane.
Subs for Kerry: T Walsh for B Sheehan (h-t); Philip O’Connor for K O’Leary (48); J McGuire for J Lyne (blood 54-56); C Keane for BJ Keane (57); J McGuire for P Geaney (61); D Casey for S O’Brien (65); A Fitzgerald for T Walsh (inj 68).
MAYO: R Hennelly; S Coen, K Keane, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Barrett, P Durcan; S O’Shea, D Vaughan; K McLoughlin, A Gallagher, J Doherty; E Regan, M Ronaldson, A Freeman.
Subs for Mayo: M Conroy for E Regan (blood 11); D O’Connor for A Gallagher (44); A O’Shea for A Freeman (48); M Sweeney for M Conroy (inj 58); C Boyle for C Barrett (58); E Varley for M Ronaldson (61); B Moran for S O’Shea (69).
Referee: M Deegan (Laois).
Kevin McLoughlin’s 52nd minute goal. Mayo’s lead grew to six and Kerry weren’t doing enough to trouble their opponents’ goal to mount a fightback.
The return of Tommy Walsh would have topped the agenda but for the result and his injury. Instead, it was Mayo’s hunger which was most appealing.
Those Mayo jerseys. Glorified training tops. Seems to us a cynical means of picking up a few more bob from supporters.
Donal Vaughan provided the Mayo midfield with a great dynamic and worked well with Seamus O’Shea. Jack Sherwood performed well for Kerry.
Kerry had to resort to short kick-outs such was Mayo’s ferocity on their restarts. The long ball to Paul Geaney wasn’t so effective.
Maurice Deegan played the advantage rule extremely well. Coped well in a difficult, edgy game but players winning kick-outs were given little consideration.
Kerry visit Derry on Sunday on the same day Mayo entertain Tyrone in Castlebar.