Mayo 2-9 Kerry 1-15... Some league matches are straightforward affairs, easy to summarise after unfolding along predictable lines.
The latest installment of this compelling rivalry certainly wasn’t that type of game as 13-man Kerry left Mayo with two precious league points, the bragging rights, and the reputations of most of their young apprentices enhanced.
MacHale Park rattled and hummed throughout this spiky and action-packed encounter on Saturday night in front of 11,639 entertained punters while referee Derek O’Mahoney had to work overtime to keep things between the ditches out on the field.
By the end, the Tipperary official had sent Kerry’s Ronan Shanahan and goalscorer Gavin Crowley for early showers within three minutes of each other during the third quarter.
The former was booked twice in quick succession while the latter walked after being shown a black card (for pulling down Jason Gibbons) to go with an earlier yellow.
On another night more players from both sides could have walked too, but afterwards neither side was complaining too much.
The pitch was soft, the hits were hard, and nobody was willing to take too many backwards steps. However, ultimately, Mayo were forced to concede that the best team won as the hosts were unable to make their numerical advantage count in the last 20 minutes.
They also paid a heavy price for missing a string of frees during that same period as Cillian O’Connor and Jason Doherty lost their bearings against a swirling breeze.
With two extra men on the field for that last quarter, Mayo scored just a solitary point from an Andy Moran free in stoppage-time as Kerry defended valiantly en bloc.
“We’re not going to be getting carried away, it’s two more league points but the big thing was for the younger players to be exposed to that kind of a battle against a seasoned, experienced team,” reflected Eamon Fitzmaurice.
“I think that when our backs were to the wall at the end, when we were down to 13 men, the lads showed a lot of courage,” he added.
“They showed a lot of know-how playing a game we wouldn’t be too used to playing, but it was just about a bit of courage.”
It was obvious from an early stage that the sartorially altered Kerry (wearing their new gold-coloured away jerseys) weren’t going to be found wanting in the courage department.
They got into their groove quickly and by half-time had racked up ten points from play with six different players (including five of their forwards) getting on the scoresheet.
All over the field, they were denying Mayo time and space, while up front Barry John Keane (3), Micheál Burns (2), Sean O’Shea (2) and Paul Geaney all showed they had the beating of their men.
The only negatives from an attacking point of view for Kerry was a hamstring injury that forced David Clifford off in the 17th minute, moments after he thumped over a neat point, and Seán O’Shea’s penalty that was saved smartly by Mayo’s All-Star goalkeeper, David Clarke.
The westerners were chasing shadows for long spells in that opening half and were it not for two fines of opportunism from Diarmuid O’Connor, the home side would have been in dire straits at the interval.
Instead, O’Connor’s goals in the 12th and 34th minutes — the latter a well-struck penalty after Neil Douglas was brought down — meant that Kerry only led by the bare minimum at the short whistle: 0-10 to 2-3.
The second half was a frantic, tetchy affair with Gavin Crowley’s goal two minutes after the restart giving Kerry a lead they never surrendered.
By the 50th minute the visitors were five points up and in complete control, as the likes of Paul Murphy and Jack Barry dictated the pace and tempo around the middle.
But then Kerry went down to 13 men and it became a battle of wits and will as the Munster champions fought a rearguard action.
“You can’t be getting cards left, right and centre,” conceded Eamon Fitzmaurice. “Being down to 13 men the lads showed great character, but definitely it’s something to take away for next weekend for us to work on.”
“We had three relatively scoreable frees that we didn’t take in the last quarter,” said a disappointed Stephen Rochford. “We had a goal chance cleared off the line.
“If we had converted those chances alone I think we’d have been able to ask further questions of the Kerry defence, but if you don’t show a ruthless enough streak you’re going to pay the ultimate price.”
Scorers for Kerry:
G Crowley (1-0), BJ Keane (0-3), P Geaney (0-3), S O’Shea (0-3, 1 ‘45), M Burns (0-2), Barry O’Sullivan, D Clifford, P Murphy, Brendan O’Sullivan (0-1 each)
J Savage for Clifford (inj, 17); Brendan O’Sullivan (0-1) for O’Brien (44); A Barry for Keane (53); M Flaherty for O’Shea (55); E O’Conchuir for Burns (59); C Coffey for O Beaglaoich (black card, 66)).
D O’Connor (2-1, 1-0 pen), J Doherty (0-3, frees), O’Connor (0-2, frees), E Regan (free), A Moran (free), B Moran (0-1 each)
C Crowe for Cafferkey (23); C O’Connor (0-2, frees) for Regan (inj, 46); C Boyle for Nally (52); A Moran (0-1, 1 free, 52)) for Douglas; F Boland for B Moran (63); C Loftus for Doherty (74).
D O’Mahoney (Tipperary).
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