Mayo pass Kerry test to reach All-Ireland final
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship semi-final replay: Mayo 2-16 Kerry 0-17
IS Mayo All-Ireland glory written in the stars?
After all they’ve come through this season and all their near misses in the recent past perhaps it is. But if this finally is their year Mayo’s success will be earned by skill, heart and the sweat of their brows, not handed to them by some twist of fate.
On Saturday, the neversaydie westerners passed another massive test with a fully deserved win over Kerry in a semi-final replay they bossed from the first whistle to the last. Three times in three years, they have lost replays around this time of year, but that never looked likely against a disjointed Kingdom outfit.
Kerry have won Munster and the National League this season, but were second best on Saturday and Mayo’s legions of loyal fans began budgeting for their 10th day out of the season after referee David Gough finally blew up what, in all honesty, was a comfortable five-point win.
“They’ll take stopping,” is how Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice put it after the final whistle.
Fitzmaurice changed his team around, threw in some youngsters and, shock-horror for Kerry purists, employed a sweeper system, but Mayo looked superior from the start.
After being pilloried as a square peg in a round hole last week, Aidan O’Shea grabbed the throw-in and charged forward before he retreated to full-back once again.
This time he blotted Kieran Donaghy out of the game and Donaghy’s frustration boiled over late on when he lashed out at O’Shea and was sent off. Peter Crowley and Mayo’s Paddy Durcan also saw red and there were black cards for Killian O’Connor and Darran O’Sullivan and a host of yellows too.
Breaffy clubman O’Shea was one of several outstanding individuals in this Mayo team, but best of all was Colm Boyle.
What an engine he has. His tackling shut down the influence of Donncha Walsh and his driving runs tore holes in the Kerry defence that they simply could not plug.
Elsewhere, Seamus O’Shea looked a different player at midfield and the front three of Andy Moran, Cillian O’Connor and Jason Doherty (particularly after O’Connor had been black-carded) were excellent.
Meanwhile, Paul Geaney was Kerry’s best player by a mile and his scores enabled the Munster champions to hang in there. They deserve credit for that and pride kept them alive after they had gone in at the interval 1-8 to 0-6 down looking second best.
Early on, Mayo kicked the ball long before reverting to a running game with a high press that caused Kerry goalkeeper Brian Kelly nightmares in the first half. Kelly could not pick out a Kerry jersey and sent one restart over his own endline for a ‘45’.
Diarmuid O’Connor got Mayo’s first half goal and when Moran and Cillian O’Connor combined to add another in the second, Kerry found themselves eight behind and sliding out of the Championship.
The westerners did have a nervy 10-minute spell when they committed panicky fouls and gave the ball away too easily, but Kerry weren’t good enough to capitalize and afterwards Mayo manager Stephen Rochford conceded that his team’s display might well rank as the best of his tenure.
“Possibly it was (Mayo’s best) because it’s an All-Ireland semi-final and there’s only one bigger game than that,” he said.
“Maybe it was, I’m just very proud of the way the boys went about – it was very important that the boys went out and showed that we didn’t leave it behind us last week. It’s a satisfying win.”
This year Mayo lost to Galway and needed extra-time or a replay to get past Derry, Cork, Roscommon and of course Kerry. They are still standing after nine games and their elongated run has brought the squad together.
“Salthill seems like a long time ago,” said Rochford.
“You don’t get much time to reflect on it when you’re traveling all over the country.
“It was a game of football that we lost and in many ways we felt we left it behind us. “There were small margins – the ball was cleared off the line twice and maybe it was the making of us. We have been challenged throughout the Qualifiers and I certainly think it has made a better group of us.”
Meanwhile, Kerry manager Fitzmaurice said he was “gutted” with the defeat and admitted: “Mayo were hungrier and they just performed better than us”.
His one complaint was a valid one and concerned the black card shown to O’Sullivan in the second half when his side was threatening to stage a rally. O’Sullivan’s momentum saw him clash with Cillian O’Connor, but there was no malice in the challenge.
“I saw that incident and he shouldn’t have got a black card, it should have been the other way,” he said.
“It meant that we were robbed of his impact and we were robbed of a substitution, that’s what it meant. But look you get these calls and you don’t get these calls, but that was definitely the wrong call.”
Whether O’Sullivan would have turned the game Kerry’s way is a long-shot and, that apart, Fitzmaurice had little grounds for complaint.
“Mayo have been outstanding,” he said.
“We didn’t need the last two games to confirm they are a serious outfit.
“They have been so close, going back to 2012 in particular, they’ve been so close every year.
“We knew we were going to have to be on top of our game to win the game and we weren’t, so it’s no huge surprise that they beat us. I think they are a great bunch, serious resilience and they are no mean footballers either.”
Fitzmaurice tried to address Kerry’s defensive frailty in the first match by using Paul Murphy as a sweeper, but the tactic robbed his side of Murphy’s energy in the middle third and, with youngsters Jack Barry and debutant Tom O’Sullivan struggling, Mayo overran the Kingdom.
“I don’t think it worked as well as we had hoped but again I think you’d have to give big credit to Mayo for that,” said Fitzmaurice.
“I think they were just operating at a slightly higher level than us.
“I think the kick-outs in the first half were a big factor – they got on top of our kick-out and won all of their own kick-outs, so they had a lot of possession.
“We were playing a bit of catch-up. Any day you lose a game there are aspects of your gameplan that are going to malfunction and aren’t going to go according to play.
“I’m sure people will be wondering what the hell were we trying to do, but the days it goes well then you end up winning the game and you look like a genius.”
In the wake of the defeat, there will be speculation over Fitzmaurice’s future and that of experienced players like Donaghy, Darran O’Sullivan, Anthony Maher and Bryan Sheehan.
“I haven’t thought about the future to be honest,” he said.
“I don’t think we’ve that many older fellas as we did in the last couple of years.
“I think all of them can play on if they want to, but it’s a huge commitment. People don’t realise, people don’t have a clue.
“The only people that know really are wives and girlfriends, that’s it, parents don’t even know.
“It’s absolutely a massive, massive commitment and the lads will make their own minds up in their own time and they’ll deserve that much at least, to be allowed that space and decide if they have the appetite.
“But what those fellas put in, people don’t know, they just haven’t a clue really.”
Kerry: B Kelly; S Enright, J Lyne (0-1), K Young; P Crowley, T Morley, P Murphy; D Moran, J Barry (0-1); S O’Brien, J Buckley (0-1), D Walsh; P Geaney (0-9, 0-8 frees), K Donaghy, T O’Sullivan
Subs: D O’Sullivan for J Buckley (h-t), J O’Donoghue (0-4, 0-2 frees) for D Walsh (h-t), F Fitzgerald (0-1) for Enright (39), M Griffin for K Young (51), BJ Keane for T O’Sullivan (63)
Black card: D O'Sullivan replaced by J Savage (45)
Mayo: D Clarke; B Harrison, D Vaughan, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Barrett (0-1), C Boyle; S O’Shea, T Parsons; K McLoughlin (0-2), A O’Shea, D O’Connor (1-0); J Doherty (0-3, 0-2 frees, 0-1 45), C O’Connor (0-6 frees), A Moran (1-1)
Subs: P Durcan (0-1) for Vaughan (ht), C Loftus (0-2) for D O’Connor (ht), S Coen for S O’Shea (61), D Kirby for Boyle (69), G Cafferkey for Barrett (74)
Black card: C O’Connor was replaced by C O’Shea (52)
Referee: David Gough (Meath)