Mayo 1-13 Kerry 1-14
After a game that had very little rhyme or reason to it, it probably shouldn’t have come as a major surprise to hear that the Kerry players had passed the time on Saturday night with a spot of karaoke in the team hotel.
With their game against Mayo postponed until Sunday afternoon due to the arrival of Storm Jorge, Peter Keane and company organised an impromptu bit of team bonding to help kill the time. It certainly didn’t do them any harm when the game finally got going, especially in the first half when Kerry made sweet music while Mayo were out of tune completely.
The Kingdom were seven points up at half-time and cruising, throwing the ball around, kicking scores for fun, and leaving the home side chasing shadows.
An early Seán O’Shea goal was followed by a David Clifford penalty that rattled the crossbar, and points rained over from all angles as Kerry filled their boots at their leisure.
It was one-way traffic for the most part.
That’s why the second half was such a huge shock to everyone, including Kerry.
James Horan reshuffled his pack with three substitutions — bringing in the energy and pace of rookies Eoghan McLaughlin and Tommy Conroy and adding the bite and steel of Eoin O’Donoghue to the half-back line.
Suddenly Mayo caught fire, and with Aidan O’Shea at his rampaging best, the league champions started to reel Kerry back in.
Incredibly, there was only a point between them deep in additional time, and Keith Higgins was left cursing his luck when his last-gasp effort for an equaliser drifted just wide almost five minutes into stoppage-time.
The music stopped seconds later.
“Yerra we had a bit of karaoke and we were flying,” a smiling Peter Keane told reporters afterwards when asked how Kerry had reacted to the news that the game had been pushed back to Sunday. “Tommy Walsh is a fantastic singer,” he added.
“It would have been a sickener not to come away with the two points,” admitted the Kerry manager, surmising that the wind had a lot to do with the tale of the two halves.
“It was a very strong wind and it was very difficult to play with.”
James Horan couldn’t hide his disappointment as he surveyed the scene following Mayo’s third defeat in five games. They only have matches against Galway and Tyrone to try and prolong their status in Division 1.
“You want to be winning games,” he admitted. “There’s nothing like winning games but our performances have not been as consistent as they can be so that’s what we will be chasing over the next couple of weeks.”
The game really did look done and dusted at half-time as Kerry went in leading by 1-8 to 0-4, despite playing against the strong wind.
The visitors came flying out of the blocks and Seán O’Shea had the ball in the Mayo net after only 80 seconds after Micheál Burns intercepted a loose clearance from Keith Higgins and Tommy Walsh set O’Shea up for a simple close-range finish.
Last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists kicked on from there with O’Shea (free) and flying wing-back Gavin White tagging on points to open up some clear daylight.
Mayo, who again badly missed the leadership and influence of the likes of Colm Boyle, Matthew Ruane, Jason Doherty and Cillian O’Connor were struggling to keep up.
And they were fortunate not to fall even further behind after five minutes when David Clifford cracked his fiercely-struck penalty off David Clarke’s crossbar.
The home crowd finally got something to cheer about when Darren Coen (free) and Tom Parsons raised white flags after two rare Mayo attacks, but Kerry quickly quelled this mini-comeback.
The Munster champions picked off five points without reply in the space of 17 minutes during the second quarter as they opened up the Mayo defence at will.
Dara Moynihan, Tony Brosnan, Seán O’Shea (free), Diarmuid Clifford and Micheál Burns all hit the target as Kerry attacked in waves and prised a porous Mayo backline apart.
It was 1-8 to 0-2 when the barrage finally ended.
Down at the other end Mayo’s misfiring attack were struggling to make any inroads against Kerry’s well-organised defence, while the home side also shot a string of bad wides.
After going 20 minutes without a score, they finally got the scoreboard moving again with two frees from Kevin McLoughlin to leave seven points between the teams at the interval.
The second half took on a life of its own and there was no mistaking the different mood music coming from the opposite sides of the tunnel afterwards.
“I’m confident we can significantly improve our performance,” said James Horan when asked the growing threat of relegation. “We need to build on the second half. I know everyone says that but we do. We’ve a good two weeks and we will have a crack at our next game.”
That’s against Galway in Salthill while Kerry head to Monaghan with a shot at the league title still very much on the cards. Peter Keane was asked afterwards if that was ‘a priority’.
“No, it’s the next game in two weeks’ time in Inniskeen that’s the next thing,” he replied. “It’s not about getting to a final, it’s about game upon game and learning from everything.” And there were no shortage of lessons from both camps to take from this game of two halves.
Scorers for Kerry: S O’Shea (1-4, 3 frees); D Clifford (0-3); J Barry, M Burns, G White, D Moynihan, T Brosnan, S O’Brien), D O’Connor (0-1 each).
Scorers for Mayo: E McLaughlin (1-1), K McLoughlin (0-3, 2 frees), D O’Connor (0-2 frees), D Coen (free), R O’Donoghue, E O’Donoghue, T Conroy, P Towey (free), A O’Shea, T Parsons (0-1 each).
KERRY: S Ryan; G O’Sullivan, T Morley, T O’Sullivan; P Murphy, S Enright, G White; D O’Connor, J Barry; M Burns, S O’Shea, T Walsh; D Moynihan, D Clifford, T Brosnan
Subs: S O’Brien for Burns (50mins); P Geaney for Walsh (53mins); G Crowley for G O’Sullivan (63mins); K Spillane for Moynihan (65mins); L Kearney for Brosnan (72mins).
MAYO: D Clarke; J McCormack, O Mullin, L Keegan;, S Coen, K Higgins, P Durcan; A O’Shea, T Parsons; K McLoughlin, D O’Connor, J Durcan; J Flynn, D Coen, R O’Donoghue
Subs: E O’Donoghue for Parsons (HT); E McLaughlin for J Durcan; T Conroy for D Coen (HT); P Towey for Flynn (71mins).
Referee: M McNally (Monaghan)
The game in 60 seconds
It mattered: Kerry’s rip-roaring first half display was ultimately where most of the damage was done. The visitors came flying out of the traps and were nine points up coming into half-time.
It would have been 12 points had David Clifford’s cannonball penalty not crashed off the crossbar in the fifth minute. Mayo did produce a typically barnstorming second half display but they had left themselves with just too much to do.
Can’t ignore: Mayo are really struggling without a string of their tried and trusted veterans and some key influencers. Every outfield line in the field has been hit with Brendan Harrison, Donie Vaughan, Colm Boyle, Matthew Ruane, Jason Doherty and Cillian O’Connor all absent through injury.
Plus, Chris Barrett and Seamie O’Shea are still working their way back to match fitness.
James Horan needs to get some of them back on the field before the next game.
Good day: This was a third successive league win for Kerry in Castlebar and a first for Peter Keane on Mayo soil. After being turned over in Tralee and in the League Final last Spring, it will have been a happy Kerry bus on the long journey south last night.
Bad day: James Horan knows his team now have only two games left to pick up the points they need to avoid being relegated out of the top-flight for the first time in more than 20 years.
He will take positives from Sunday’s second-half display but the first half was far below the standards that Horan sets his Mayo teams. A third defeat in five games sums up their form.
Best on show: Gavin White was at his swashbuckling best in the opening half, in particular, while Sean O’Shea, David Clifford and Tommy Walsh all showed glimpses of what they’re capable of.
Mayo’s apprentice full-back Oisin Mullin did a fine job of restricting Clifford’s influence overall though while Aidan O’Shea, Ryan O’Donoghue and Eoghan McLaughlin put in big second half shifts.
Physio room: Mayo’s lengthy injury list is a major issue at the moment but James Horan said that both Donie Vaughan and Cillian O’Connor were ‘very close’ to making a return.
Stephen O’Brien and Paul Geaney, who were held in reserve by Kerry, both came on during the second half.
Sideline smarts: Kerry’s decision to start Tommy Walsh had been flagged in advance and his inclusion caused Mayo plenty of problems in the opening half. The same could be said of Kerry’s flying wing-backs the movement of their forwardline as they pushed Mayo on to the back foot.
But Mayo met fire with fire in the second half and the tide gradually started to turn.
Moving Aidan O’Shea closer to the Kerry goal also made a big difference.
Man in the middle: Martin McNally didn’t have too many major incidents to deal with and got the penalty decision right. He generally tried to let the game flow, but some of his decisions in the closing stages certainly didn’t go down well with Mayo supporters.
A late free to Kerry — when David Clifford seemed to be doing just as much of the pulling and holding with Keith Higgins off the ball — seemed a harsh call.
What’s next?: Kerry go to Inniskeen to face Monaghan in the penultimate round next Sunday week while Mayo are away to Galway at Pearse Stadium in Salthill on the same day.