It was an advantage that Kilkenny failed to reel in despite a competitive showing over the final two-thirds of the tie.
“Like any team facing up against overwhelming favourites, we wanted to make sure not to allow them to get two or three goals and finish us,” was the verdict of Cats manager Christy Walsh afterwards, though he acknowledged the opening period left his team with a mountain to climb.
“We wanted to batten down the hatches and make sure they didn’t get away from us and while they didn’t run away with it, they got four or five points and we were chasing the whole time.”
Mayo running away with the tie looked a real possibility as they opened in real style.
Lateral movement from side to side across the full width of the field stretched Kilkenny’s central players, and John Hutton, Gavin Conway, and Cathal Freeman took advantage with a string of well-taken points, while the Cats’ lack of mobility made it tough for them to break out of defence effectively.
Michael Malone carried the fight to Mayo as best he could, but with every Kilkenny attack that was smothered, the pressure on their backline increased and they finally cracked in the 20th minute when Pat Barrett played in Diarmuid McGing for the game’s opening goal.
It was no surprise that when Kilkenny’s revival finally came, it fell to Malone to inspire it.
Michael Bolger broke their duck with a ‘45’, converted after his own attempt on goal was brilliantly blocked clear by Mayo keeper Blake Forkan. Malone followed up with two points, the first a stunning strike from underneath the stand.
When Paddy McConigley pointed to start the second half, Kilkenny had registered five points out of the last six and trailed by just four, 1-6 to 0-5.
The goal Kilkenny needed never came, however, as a vital block by Barry Leonard denied Caleb Roche six minutes after the restart, while Gavin Conway and Ronan Malee hit form in the second half to add five points from play between them and push Mayo over the line.
The victory sets up an All-Ireland final clash with Kerry, currently scheduled for Saturday week.
D McGing (1-3, 1 free), G Conway (0-4), R Malee (0-3), J Hutton and C Freeman (0-1 each).
M Malone and C Roche (frees) (0-2 each), P Donnelly, M Bolger (45), P McConigley and Conor McDonald (0-1 each).
B Forkan; B Leonard, B Moran, P Barrett; S Gaughan, D McHugh, M Barrett; P Collins, P Feerick; D Durcan, C Freeman, G Conway; D McGing, J Hutton, R Malee.
E Collins for M Barrett (HT), M Togher for Durcan (HT), D Healy for P Barrett (41), E O’Donoghue for Leonard (50), B Carr for Feerick (56), D Joyce for McGing (59).
JJ O’Sullivan; S Duncan, B Aylward, N Darcy; J Fennelly, P McConigley, P Roche; M Malone, J Culleton; D Herity, C Roche, Cormac McDonald; M Bolger, P Donnelly, B Egan.
D Lyng for McDonald (HT), JJ Grace for Lyng (38 - bc), Conor McDonald for Fennelly (41), J Shieley for Bolger (50), D O’Connor for Donnelly (59).
Fergal Barry (Kildare).