Mayo let Kerry off the hook as another semi-final replay looms
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship semi-final: Kerry 2-14 Mayo 2-14
THESE two just don’t do drudgery - and for those who said the drama of the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick three summers ago couldn’t be repeated, Kerry and Mayo came pretty damn close yesterday.
The rain drove, the wind howled and the crowd roared as, for 75-odd minutes, Croke Park felt more like a creaking ampitheatre in Roman times, the ghosts of three brutally one-sided quarter-finals laid to rest in the most emphatic fashion.
When the final whistle sounded, seconds after Bryan Sheehan had fallen short with a free from distance, it was greeted with a mixture of disappointment and relief. Part wanted it never to end, but the heart can only take so much.
And from first ball until last, the on-field gladiators produced a contest that just would not come up for air.
The slippery surface, a ball that often refused to stick, some truly awful defending and plenty of poor decision-making – it may not be used as a coaching reference in years to come, but nobody walking away from Croke Park could claim to have been anything other than royally entertained.
And adding another layer of intrigue were the various sub-plots that materialised across the field as the afternoon stretched out.
O’Shea v ‘Star’ on the edge of the square – those who suggested this match-up could be the answer to Mayo’s long-running Donaghy dilemma were dismissed as though they’d be better spending their time howling at the moon.
Mayo, we were told, hadn’t the scoring forwards to fight fire with the mighty Paul Geaney, James O’Donoghue and Donaghy at the other end.
Step forward Andy Moran once again, the craftiness of his movement matched only by the cleverness of his ball usage – 1-5 from play in an All-Ireland semi-final is a decent day’s work by anyone’s reckoning, but even then he contributed so much more than that which topped up the scoreboard.
Stephen Rochford has been derided for some of his chosen tactics through the years, but Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s decision to leave Kerry without a sweeper failed spectacularly.
Mayo got two goals, but could have had more. Perhaps he too believed the pre-match talk about the Mayo forwards. Shane Enright, in particular, won’t have thanked his manager after a chastening afternoon chasing the evergreen Moran.
But yet, for every bit of the Ballaghderreen veteran’s brilliance, all Mayo have to show is another replay. A fourth draw of the Championship summer, they provide drama like no other – but, as they know better than any, drama doesn’t put Celtic crosses in back pockets.
Mayo may have come out on top against the Rossies at the second time of asking a fortnight ago, but supporters will have made the long trip west trying to block out memories of Limerick at the same stage three years ago, Dublin in the 2015 semi-final, and of course last year’s All-Ireland decider.
Replays, the ones that really matter, have not been kind to this Mayo group. Just as against the Dubs last September they were the better side yesterday, yet they needed a late, late point from Paddy Durcan to grant them another shot.
Kerry were ragged and disjointed but hung in, refusing to be bowed in their face of their own failings. The elusiveness and free-taking ability of Paul Geaney kept them alive, with Kieran Donaghy – in the first half anyway – causing mayhem any time he escaped O’Shea’s attentions.
The galloping runs forward of David Moran and the occasional burst of pace from Stephen O’Brien put Mayo on the back foot but, if they were holding something in reserve from the Galway game, they didn’t show it here.
Fittingly, it was Moran who set the tone as, following a nervy start from both counties, the 33-year-old rattled the net to break the deadlock six minutes in.
It came when Diarmuid O’Connor’s long ball from the right was fumbled into Moran’s path by Cillian O’Connor, the Kerry defence standing like statues as Moran reacted quickest and lashed beyond Brian Kelly.
Frees from Geaney and O’Donoghue settled Kingdom nerves, and they struck with a major of their own after 14 minutes when Donaghy - after David Moran had pick-pocketed Tom Parsons in the middle- got out in front of O’Shea and played in the onrushing O’Brien. He didn’t break stride before burying the ball low to David Clarke’s right.
Game on, and when Killian Young strode forward to slot over, before O’Donoghue added another, all of a sudden Kerry’s dander was up.
But back came Mayo, their direct runners feeding off Andy Moran and Cillian O’Connor as the unprotected Kingdom rearguard looked at sixes and sevens.
Goal number two duly came when Colm Boyle found himself in space, turned Michael Geaney and sent Paul Murphy for a pint of milk before producing a third unerring finish of a game still only 20 minutes old.
A fourth almost arrived three minutes later, Moran again in the thick of it as, after two chances had been passed up, he stroked the ball goalwards amid chaos inside the Kerry square, the outstretched leg of Mark Griffin sending the ball looping over the bar for a point – much to the Kingdom’s relief.
Donaghy’s awareness was proving troubling at times for O’Shea, far from his comfort zone at full-back, and Geaney’s accuracy from frees ensured it was all square at the short whistle, 2-5 to 1-8.
Mayo started the second half strongly, Diarmuid O’Connor rising above Murphy to palm the ball down for Moran who made no mistake, and then Donal Vaughan, Cillian O’Connor and Tom Parsons all popping up with points.
The see-saw nature of this game continued though when David Moran sold Keith Higgins a masterful dummy before seeing his low shot superbly saved by Clarke, only for captain Johnny Buckley to convert from the narrowest of angles – 2-9 each, here we go again.
Heading into the final 20, it was tit for tat, never again more than a point between the two, with Clarke coming to Mayo’s rescue one more time as he denied Donaghy with a point blank save.
The Tralee colossus was eventually withdrawn in the second minute of additional time, the game seemingly headed for a draw. But when Vaughan clumsily barged over Bryan Sheehan – Donaghy’s replacement – the familiar sighs from the Mayo support filled Croke Park.
Fifty-five or so metres out, rain tipping down, who else in Ireland would you have wanted over that ball other than Sheehan?
As he stepped up, a sharp intake of breath from all corners threatened to suck the ball to the stands, but when he miscued his effort into the grateful arms of Aidan O’Shea, we at last knew that another date with destiny awaited six days from then.
They’re back at Croke Park this time, nowhere near Limerick, but it is the men from the Kingdom who will have travelled home thankful for the second bite.
History has already served its warning to Mayo many times over. Kerry surely can’t be as bad again.
Kerry: B Kelly; S Enright, M Griffin, K Young (0-1); P Crowley, T Morley, P Murphy (0-1); D Moran, A Maher; M Geaney, J Buckley (1-0), S O'Brien (1-0); P Geaney (0-7, 0-4 frees), K Donaghy (0-1), J O'Donoghue (0-3, 0-2 frees). Subs: J Savage for M Geaney (21), J Lyne for Griffin (HT), J Barry for Maher (HT), D O’Sullivan for Buckley (54), BJ Keane (0-1) for O’Donoghue (61), B Sheehan for Donaghy (72)
Yellow cards: Murphy (27), Savage (33), Crowley (36), D Moran (59), O’Sullivan (67)
Mayo: D Clarke; B Harrison, A O'Shea, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Barrett, C Boyle (1-0); S O'Shea, T Parsons (0-2); K McLoughlin, D Vaughan (0-1), D O'Connor; J Doherty (0-1), C O'Connor (0-4, 0-1 free), A Moran (1-5). Subs: P Durcan (0-1) for Boyle (42), S Coen for S O’Shea (54), D Drake for D O’Connor (67), C Loftus for Doherty (73)
Yellow cards: McLoughlin (33), Vaughan (67)
Referee: M Deegan (Laois)