Mayo at heaven’s gate after defeat of Kerry

Mayo 2-16 Kerry 0-17
It’s worth clarifying that there really are only two schools of thought on Mayo. Those who want them to win already and those who want them to die already.

That they have yet to do either is of considerable discomfort to their supporters and detractors alike.

Saturday’s win, their first championship victory over Kerry in 21 years, means they once more stand on the precipice of history. Win next month and they will emulate Tyrone’s mammoth 10-game run of 2005. They will go in as underdogs too, which will suit them just fine.

Luck seems to have taken a shine to them this year when it’s previously thrown them daggers. In eventually overcoming Derry, Cork, Roscommon, and Kerry last Sunday week, they have lived dangerously but not here.

Here they were impervious, leading from the 14th minute to the final whistle as they delivered their most convincing display yet of this campaign.

Parallels will be drawn with 1951 when they too did away with Kerry at the second time of asking. Such star-gazing will set many Mayo hearts aflutter but captain Cillian O’Connor afterwards struck a sombre note. It seemed almost unnatural for a man of just 25 years but then September 17 will be his fifth All-Ireland final game. Alan Dillon, substitute and his Ballintubber club-mate, prepares for his seventh. Each time they’ve left Croke Park brassick.

A goal in each half, the first from Diarmuid O’Connor not without a touch of fortune, sent them on their way to a famous success.

It helped that Kerry played like petrified turtles but then Mayo’s brilliance in winning Kerry kick-outs and dominating possession also played a part in the Munster champions remaining in their shell.

Leading 1-8 to 0-6 at half-time having kept Kerry scoreless for 14 minutes midway through the first half, Kerry jettisoned their sweeper tactic only for Conor Loftus to find Andy Moran who benefitted from a Shane Enright slip.

Moran completed a one-two with Cillian O’Connor and Mayo were eight points to the good, 2-9 to 0-7.

What came after that was hardly processional. Kerry did cut that gap in half and David Clarke, Keith Higgins, and Colm Boyle had to make a quick succession of blocks to keep out Kerry. The diligent Boyle also had to be alert to deny Paul Geaney minutes earlier. Mayo were content to give away frees and Jason Doherty was able to oblige with a couple of dead-ball points himself after Cillian O’Connor’s black card.

Kerry had to tweak more so than change to make Mayo guess. The battle of the drawn game alone would have brought them on.

They may have been the poorer of the teams last Sunday week but it was they who were ahead before Patrick Durcan’s leveller. That was in spite of their lack of battle-hardedness, in spite of being bamboozled by Mayo at the outset, in spite of their full-back line offered little in the way of protection from their fellow defenders.

It was they who had more capacity to improve but instead they took a shovel to their game-plan when it needed a scalpel. Instead it was they who ended up confused about what they were doing.

The cringing sight of Brian Kelly sliding a kick-out past his own end-line for a Mayo 45 will be tattooed in his brain and serve as the damning
definition of this Kerry misfire.

By naming seven defenders (that’s including the versatile Jonathan Lyne), Éamonn Fitzmaurice had made it abundantly clear he was deploying a sweeper, defying a host of former Kerry players who before the replay insisted, or at least hinted, he would not show Mayo, what they effectively termed, the knee.

Fitzmaurice obviously didn’t attend that school of thought. “No, it’s a system and often times a sweep is viewed completely from a negative point of view. It also gives you numbers to go the other way, in terms of attacking and getting half-backs up the field.

“We just didn’t have enough ball to do that. Today it was predominantly in the first half in particular from a defensive point of view. As we saw during the league and the final in particular, we used it to great effect but, like I said, you have to have the ball to do that and we didn’t have enough of it.”

Freeing up a player as intelligent as Paul Murphy did make sense as did the attempt to at least try and dictate the terms of the game to Mayo. But Mayo’s trust in their own game was unwavering. Their extra man was used from the half-back line to push up on Kerry’s kick-outs. Boyle, in particular, made hay. When Kerry did have the ball in the first half, a distinct lack of support for advancing players saw them too often dispossessed or outnumbered.

Fitzmaurice won’t be forgiven too quickly for sticking with Shane Enright for as long as he did and dropping James O’Donoghue but he was defiant on his selection. “You always say that when you lose. But no, I stand over what we did 100%, what we were trying to do, it didn’t work today but that’s the beauty of management — we don’t have the benefit of hindsight.”

That this defeat ended in infamy with Kieran Donaghy being shown a straight red card for lashing out at Aidan O’Shea, selector Liam Hassett being sent to the stand, Peter Crowley being dismissed for two yellow cards and Darran O’Sullivan, unfairly, picking up a black card should serve as a reminder to Kerry that they must be cuter next season. 

Mayo did lose two themselves, O’Connor to the aforementioned black and Durcan after a second yellow respectively, but their indiscipline wasn’t as costly. 

In fact, it was smarter.

September beckons and romance is once again in the air for Mayo but it’s cold, hard pragmatism that has them where they are.

Scorers for Mayo: C. O’Connor (0-6, frees); A. Moran (1-1); D. O’Connor (1-0); J. Doherty (0-3, 1 free, 1 45); K. McLoughlin, C. Loftus (0-2 each); C. Barrett, P. Durcan (0-1 each).

Scorers for Kerry: P. Geaney (0-10, 8 frees); J. O’Donoghue (0-3, 1 free); J. Lyne, J. Buckley, J. Barry, F. Fitzgerald (0-1 each).

MAYO: D. Clarke; A. O’Shea, B. Harrison; D. Vaughan; C. Barrett, L. Keegan, K. Higgins, C. Boyle; S. O’Shea, T. Parsons; K. McLoughlin, D. O’Connor; C. O’Connor, A. Moran, J. Doherty.

Subs for Mayo: P. Durcan for D. Vaughan (35+3); C. Loftus for D. O’Connor (h-t); C. O’Shea for C. O’Connor (black, 52); S. Coen for S. O’Shea (61); D. Kirby for C. Boyle (69); G. Cafferkey for C. Barrett (70+4).

Red card: P. Durcan (second yellow, 70+3).

KERRY: B. Kelly; K. Young, S. Enright, T. Morley; P. Murphy; J. Lyne, P. Crowley, T. O’Sullivan; D. Moran, J. Barry; D. Walsh, J. Buckley (c), S. O’Brien; P. Geaney, K. Donaghy.

Subs for Kerry: D. O’Sullivan for J. Buckley, J. O’Donoghue for D. Walsh (both h-t); F. Fitzgerald for S. Enright (39); J. Savage for D. O’Sullivan (black, 45); M. Griffin for K. Young (51); B.J. Keane for T. O’Sullivan (63); A. Maher for J. Barry (blood, 66).

Sent off: P. Crowley (second yellow, 63); K. Donaghy (straight, 70+4).

Referee: D. Gough (Meath).


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