Mayo just had to be resolute to pick up their first points as Kerry’s frame crumbled having gone six points up by the half-hour.
Cillian O’Connor kicked nine of 12 scoreable frees and Andy Moran spearheaded the Mayo attack in a belief-affirming display by the visitors.
Kerry, on the other hand, lost their confidence as the game developed. Hamstring niggles for James O’Donoghue before throw-in and then Paul Geaney and Killian Young in the first half sapped them of proven performers.
Last week, Kerry left Letterkenny knowing they could have won by more. Here, victory would have been theirs had they been more clinical in the first half.
Terrorising the Mayo defence with some beautiful passages of kick-passing and off-the-shoulder support play, they had no less than three goal chances outside of David Moran’s missed penalty.
It was no wonder Éamonn Fitzmaurice felt like they left it behind them.
“I think so. Even if you take in two of the goal chances — they can give you such momentum whereas if you miss them they can rob that momentum. If we had taken some of the goal chances, we would have certainly made it harder for Mayo to come back.
“We played a lot of good football in the first half but didn’t convert our chances when we were on top. We didn’t and in the second half there was a lack of leadership/experience there as the game went on and we just weren’t able to grind out a result or even a point out of it.”
Kerry did goal in the 30th minute when Barry John Keane reacted quickest to David Clarke’s punched clearance from a Moran point attempt that fell short.
But he could have also goaled when the ball was squared by the marauding Jack Barry. Debutant Adrian Spillane, whose jersey was pulled for the penalty (a decision Stephen Rochford felt was “soft”), also managed to get his shot off only to be denied by an excellent Clarke stop.
Spillane earlier rattled the bar as Kerry threatened to run riot.
Andy Moran did see a goal chance at the other end go wide but Mayo were living on scraps and it didn’t help that O’Connor kicked two frees short in the first half.
“The reality is that we couldn’t play any poorer than we played in the first half,” reckoned Rochford.
“That performance in the first half was very stand-offish, it was everything we hadn’t asked for, for whatever reason. We didn’t get into any rhythm in the first half.”
Rochford’s decision-making was reasonably swift: those who were underperforming were whisked off while the repositioning of Stephen Coen in midfield from right half-back gave them more impetus.
Moran was so good against Donegal but his penalty miss, his deflected follow-up kick and subsequent 45 miss seemed to sap some of his morale and it was understandable the promising Barry was going to wilt towards the end, this being his third full game in six days.
Like Barry and Tadhg Morley, Young had careered forward with venom in the first half but it was evident Kerry’s attacks had become slower in the second half.
Mayo tied the game on three occasions before they went ahead for the first time in the 65th minute through Moran. O’Connor doubled the advantage as Kerry were made to rue going without a score from the 58th minute onwards. Fitzmaurice accepted Kerry’s second half was “error-ridden” but there were few lieutenants left on the field by the end.
Indeed, because of black card indiscipline they were down to 14 men for the final eight minutes of action before Tom Parsons was shown a straight red card following a melee at the death.
Fitzmaurice reflected: “We have to look at our discipline. Conor McManus is coming to town (Killarney) in two weeks’ time and he’s very accurate so we’ll have to be more disciplined.
"I thought in the first half there were a couple of very harsh calls on Mark Griffin coming out with the ball. He was being pulled and there was frees for over-carrying against him. But when there are nine frees converted, you have to look at discipline.”
B.J. Keane (1-3); P. Geaney (frees), J. Barry (0-2 each); J. Savage, P. Murphy, C. Geaney (0-1).
C. O’Connor (0-9, frees); A. Moran (0-3); T. Parsons, C. O’Shea, K. McLoughlin (0-1).
B. Kelly; R. Shanahan, M. Griffin, P. Crowley (c); J. Lyne, K. Young, T. Morley; D. Moran, J. Barry; D. Walsh, P. Murphy, A. Spillane; J. Savage, P. Geaney, C. Keane.
B.J. Keane for P. Geaney (inj 19); T. O’Sullivan for K. Young (inj 27); C. Geaney for C. Keane (48); M. Geaney for A. Spillane (50); J. Foley for R. Shanahan (inj 57); Barry O’Sullivan for J. Lyne (black, 60); J Foley (black, 67, not replaced).
D. Clarke; P. Durcan, K. Higgins, D. Newcombe; S. Coen, C. Boyle, D. Drake; D. Vaughan, T. Parsons; F. Boland, C. O’Connor (c), C. O’Shea; K. McLoughlin, A. Moran, J. Doherty.
E. O’Donoghue for D. Drake (24); D. O’Connor for F. Boland (46); S. Nally for D. Vaughan (51); E. Regan for J. Doherty (59); M. Plunkett for E. Regan (black, 67); D. Kirby for C. O’Shea (70). Red card: T. Parsons (straight, 70+5).
P. Hughes (Armagh).