If Mayo supporters didn’t see their lives of final anguish flashing before their eyes as Stephen O’Brien squared the ball for David Clifford in the first minute of additional time then they are lying.
In a moment of weakness, some may have even consigned themselves to the prospect of Clifford breaking their hearts in the same way he did to those of Monaghan fans in Clones last July. If that was the case, they underestimated Robbie Hennelly who was able to deny what some of a green and red persuasion felt was inevitable.
But so much was pointed towards a Mayo defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory. With Aidan O’Shea having left the fray seconds earlier after a second yellow card, it seems all set up for Kerry to overcome their two-point deficit and grab the victory.
Afterwards, TG4’s Micheál Ó Domhnaill asked captain and man of the match Diarmuid O’Connor about his goalkeeper.
His voice seemed to boom louder around the stadium as he mentioned Hennelly who had endured some bad days in these parts.
But there was a happier ending for Hennelly and company yesterday. After the keeper somehow denied Clifford with a stunning save, substitute Colm Boyle was on hand to clear the deflected ball and Mayo could breathe again.
Two other substitutes combined a couple of minutes later, Andy Moran kicking through to Ciarán Treacy for Mayo’s third goal and with that any fatalism in the Mayo ranks disappeared.
“We’re in a very strong position with our goalkeepers,” said James Horan yesterday. “David Clarke has been excellent in the last few years. “We played Dublin here a few weeks ago and were very poor but Rob was the outstanding player on the field that day. He’s on the right track and is getting better and better.”
In the aftermath, Horan felt Mayo should have been out of sight long before the end despite the fact that his side had been poor facing the wind in the first half.
Three of their five points were fisted scores and Horan felt they might have developed into goal chances. But credit should also go to Kerry who succeeded in bottling them hugely down the middle.
Donie Vaughan was denied by Shane Ryan in the seventh minute whereas Kerry’s strikes at goal in that period (whatever about their attempts at points) were more efficient.
Gavin Crowley’s 13th minute goal was superbly finished as the Mayo backs seemed too consumed with Clifford’s solo run.
A first Mayo point in 12 minutes cut the margin to two but in the next attack Stephen O’Brien ran onto a ball claimed well by Dara Moynihan after and drilled past Hennelly.
A second point for Fergal Boland finished off the scoring for the half, Kerry 2-3 to 0-5 ahead but their shot-taking was off - kicking four short and Kevin McCarthy hitting the post.
Peter Keane felt his team didn’t do enough in that opening half (they also managed just two points from play in over 60 minutes of football).
“I think in the first half in particular, we had lots of chances and we just didn’t put them away. We had lots of opportunities that we just didn’t take in the first half in particular.
We were still tipping away in that second half and then (Mayo’s) goals just came at critical times. Even at the death, we were unlucky we didn’t poke a goal.
Aidan O’Shea began to take a hold of proceedings in the second half - his long ball into Darren Coen in the 38th minute almost setting up the full-forward for a goal - but the hard running of O’Brien ensured Kerry kept their noses in front. In nine minutes, he won three frees, which were sent over by Seán O’Shea.
Kerry went four points up but it was sliced to the bare minimum when Matthew Ruane completed a one-two with Coen to score a goal for the second consecutive game against Kerry.
Kerry replied with a free from O’Shea and also hit back with a James Barry point when Mayo went ahead in the 58th minute.
But the tide was turning and Mayo were rewarded when captain O’Connor, after two mighty points earlier in the half, added a second Mayo goal.
He caught goalkeeper Shane Ryan in no man’s land when following up a Paddy Durcan pass that was dropping short.
Paul Geaney had brought Kerry to within two when Hennelly put on his cape to flummox Clifford. After such pain, there was almost a sense of justice that he was the difference on a day of drama and deliverance.
Scorers for Mayo:
D. O’Connor (1-2); M. Ruane (1-1); C. Treacy (1-0); F. Boland, J. Carr, J. Doherty (1 free) (0-2 each); P. Durcan, D. Coen (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kerry:
S. O’Shea (0-5, frees); G. Crowley (1-1); S. O’Brien (1-0); D. Clifford (0-2); J. Barry, P. Geaney (0-1 each).
R. Hennelly; K. Higgins, C. Barrett, B. Harrison; P. Durcan, L. Keegan, D. Vaughan; M. Ruane, A. O’Shea; F. Boland, J. Doherty, D. O’Connor; K. McLoughlin, D. Coen, J. Carr.
Subs for Mayo:
A. Moran for D. Coen (51); C. Boyle for D. Vaughan (58); E. Regan for J. Carr (62); C. Treacy for J. Doherty (67).
A. O’Shea (70+1, second yellow).
S. Ryan; P. Crowley, J. Sherwood, T. O’Sullivan; G. Crowley, P. Murphy (c), G. O’Sullivan; J. Barry, D. O’Connor; D. Moynihan, S. O’Shea, S. O’Brien; D. Clifford, T. Walsh, K. McCarthy.
Subs for Kerry:
B. Ó Beaglaoich for T. O’Sullivan (blood 10-12); J. O’Donoghue for D. Moynihan (h-t); J. Foley for J. Sherwood (39); M. Griffin for K. McCarthy (42); P. Geaney for T. Walsh (54); G. O’Brien for G. Crowley (66).
D. O’Connor (70+4, second yellow).
F. Kelly (Longford).