Mayo goalkeeper Robert Hennelly is powerless to prevent Kerry’s Bryan Sheehan converting the 64th minute penalty that turned last Sunday’s NFL match at McHale Park.
Mayo miss opportunity to kick on
IT’S still very early days for both the new season and the new regime but there was an unmistakable sense of an opportunity lost at McHale Park last Sunday as James Horan suffered his first defeat since taking over as Mayo manager.
A controversial penalty which was converted by Kerry substitute Bryan Sheehan in the 64th minute proved the game’s defining moment, but there were no excuses from Horan or his players afterwards as they considered some telling statistics.
Mayo failed to score for the first 19 minutes of a sticky match and also endured 20 scoreless minutes before the end. They also shot ten wides and conceded 35 frees during the course of a game that was blighted by a blustery wind and showers of rain.
However, the obvious talking-point immediately after the game was the penalty. It was awarded six minutes from the end of normal time when Kerry’s livewire centre-forward Darran O’Sullivan burst through on the Mayo goal before going to ground under a challenge from Robert Hennelly, who was in the process of making an excellent senior debut.
Referee Maurice Deegan had no hesitation in awarding the penalty, a decision James Horan described as ‘unbelievable’, and Sheehan drilled the kick low and hard to the net. The same player ran 60 metres soon after and lobbed over a superb point before Kieran O’Leary, another Kerry sub, settled the issue with a neat score from a tight angle.
Mayo plugged away gamely until the bitter end but a string of wides, and a missed free from Aidan Kilcoyne, meant that they were unable to reel the winners back in.
“We started sluggishly but sorted it out,” said James Horan afterwards. “We didn’t get the return on our possession and we got suckered then on the penalty.
“I’d be interested to see it on TV but it should have been a free out for barging. It was an unbelievable decision, to be honest.
“But we had a chance to clear the ball before Darran O’Sullivan got it. That’s the root cause.”
There is no doubt that Mayo will learn from this harsh lesson. Despite playing with the aid of a strong wind in the first half they gave Kerry a head-start and were trailing by three points after 13 minutes as David Geaney, Darran O’Sullivan and Colm Cooper (free) picked off scores.
However, some gallant defending from Castlebar’s trio of Richie Feeney, Alan Feeney and Tom Cunniffe in the full-back line kept Kerry’s marquee forwards at bay.
When Mayo eventually got into their stride around the middle, things started to fall into place. Ronan McGarrity, who worked hard in that opening half, hoisted over an inspirational score on 19 minutes to open the account before frees from Mark Ronaldson and Campbell tied the game up for the first time.
Geaney and Andy Moran (a spectacular score from the left wing) then traded points before Aidan O’Shea, who endured another largely frustrating afternoon in the company of Marc Ó Sé, squeezed over his only point of the day to give Mayo the lead for the first time.
A free from David Geaney on the stroke of half-time restored parity and underlined the nip-tuck nature of the exchanges.
The trend continued after the restart as Kerry, despite the significant breeze at their backs, found it difficult to put daylight between themselves and the locals.
Instead, on three occasions during the third quarter, Mayo took the initiative as they settled into their familiar running and passing game against the elements.
The outstanding Kevin McLoughlin swopped points with David Geaney (free) before Aidan Campbell (free) and Darran O’Sullivan did likewise to level the game for the fifth time.
A war of attrition had developed by this stage but Mayo were more than holding their own, and Neil Douglas, who was busy during his twenty minutes on the field, popped over the lead score.
The issue was finely-balanced as the game swung into the final quarter but little did we know that Mayo would fail to score again as a plethora of chances came and went.
“We played better overall than we did the first day, even though the second-half was more spectacular against Down,” said James Horan as he focussed on the positive. “But overall the curve is going the right way.”
Sunday’s derby match with Galway in Tuam provides the next opportunity for an evaluation.
R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, A Feeney, R Feeney; P Gardiner, G Cafferkey, K McLoughlin (0-1); J Gibbons, R McGarrity (0-1); A Campbell (0-2 frees), A Moran (0-1), A Dillon; A O’Shea (0-1), A Kilcoyne, M Ronaldson (0-1 free).
Subs used: N Douglas (0-1) for Ronaldson (41 mins), T Parsons for Gibbons (55 mins), J Doherty for Douglas (61 mins).
B Kealy; P Reidy, M Ó Sé, S Enright; A O’Mahony, E Brosnan, J Lyne; S Scanlon, D Moran; G O’Driscoll, D O’Sullivan (0-2), D Walsh; C Cooper (0-1, free), K Donaghy, D Geaney (0-4, 0-2 frees).
Subs used: A Maher for Moran (43 mins), D Casey for O’Driscoll, K Young for P Reidy (both 50 mins), B Sheehan (1-1) for Geaney (57 mins), K O’Leary (0-1) for O’Sullivan (70 mins, inj).
Referee: M Deegan (Laois)