Kingdom challenge proves bridge too far
THERE were mixed emotions among the thousands of supporters who follow the fortunes of Mayo football as they left Croke Park on Sunday evening.
Those of a positive disposition would have focussed on the journey that brought them to this stage of the Summer, as well as Mayo’s first half display where they hit Kerry with everything they had, and hassled and harried some of the finest footballers in the country into submission.
The team’s stubborn refusal to show the white feather after slipping eight points behind at the end of the third quarter would also be a genuine cause for optimism. As would the individual displays of the likes of Ger Cafferkey, Donal Vaughan and Andy Moran who all embellished their reputations.
The progress made over the last eight months is also a reason to be cheerful. A Mayo squad of positive, committed and confident footballers has been assembled and they will learn from experiences like this. There is no shame in being beaten by a better team.
However, there would also be a constituency of Mayo supporters with a nagging sense of disappointment as they made their way home. They were the ones who truly believed the time had come to set the record straight with Kerry.
Unfortunately, Colm Cooper et al had other ideas, and unforced errors, individual mistakes, and a midfield malfunction combined to upset James Horan’s best-laid plans.
Heading in at half-time trailing by just two points (0-6 to 0-8), and bearing in mind their recent second half ‘shut outs’, Mayo looked to be in a prime position to take the game to their nemesis.
Cafferkey, Keith Higgins and Vaughan were winning their individual battles against Donaghy, Darran O’Sullivan and Declan O’Sullivan, Trevor Mortimer was filling the role of ‘enforcer’ with relish, while Andy Moran tormented Marc Ó Sé on the edge of the Kerry square.
Sure, the Munster champions had reeled off five unanswered points in eleven minutes at the end of the first half, but Mayo were giving as good as they were getting. They had survived Kerry’s early onslaught, rode their luck (twice) as Darran O’Sullivan was denied early goals by a couple of Robbie Hennelly saves, and were well in contention.
The warning lights began to flash though when Kieran O’Leary and Bryan Sheehan (free) posted early scores to double Kerry’s advantage just after the restart.
Thankfully, Mayo’s response was immediate as Donal Vaughan and Andy Moran tossed over points at the other end to keep in touch.
Then came the beginning of the end as Kerry stitched together their best football of the game; seven points in the space of eight minutes duly followed as Colm Cooper (2), Paul Galvin, Sheehan (free), Donaghy and O’Leary all scored to break free of Mayo’s stubborn grip.
Galvin’s introduction, moments after Cooper nailed an inspirational point, had a major bearing on the game. He put himself about, brought his presence to bear, and kept Mayo occupied.
That run of scores understandably knocked Mayo out of their stride. Around the middle, in particular, Kerry had began to dominate as they overpowered the challengers, beat them at their own game, and waves of blue jerseys swept forward.
When the blitz ended, eight points separated the sides (0-16/0-8) with 50 minutes played.
At that moment Mayo had a decision to make. Unsurprisingly, in keeping with their recent displays, they stood and fought, and engineered a brilliant goal two minutes later from Cillian O’Connor to rattle Kerry’s cage again.
Predictably, Andy Moran was involved as his initial goalbound shot was parried by Brendan Kealy, and O’Connor had a lot of work to do when he gathered the rebound. His instinctive talent moved him into a shooting position before he drilled a low left-footed shot into the corner of the net.
Game on? Not quite.
The roars of the huge Mayo crowd had barely died down when Darran O’Sullivan’s centre was spilled, and Colm Cooper gathered, swivelled and slammed the ball into the roof of the net.
Game over? Very much so.
Once more, despite the cause looking lost, Mayo gave chase and tacked on three unanswered points from O’Connor (free), Vaughan and Keegan while Andy Moran also cracked a shot off the post as the clock ran down.
That left five points in it after 67 minutes but Kerry upped the ante again and four late scores underlined the gulf between the sides.
Despite the result, however, it felt a long way from Longford.
B Kealy; K Young, M Ó Sé, T O’Sullivan; T Ó Sé (0-1), A O’Mahony, E Brosnan (0-1); B Sheehan (0-3, all frees), A Maher; Darran O’Sullivan (0-1), Declan O’Sullivan, D Walsh; C Cooper (1-7, four frees), K Donaghy (0-2), K O’Leary (0-2).
Subs used: P Galvin (0-2) for Walsh (43 mins); J Donoghue for Darran O’Sullivan (62 mins); D Bohan for T Ó Sé; S Scanlon (0-1) for Sheehan (68 mins); BJ Keane for Declan O’Sullivan (71 mins).
R Hennelly; R Feeney, G Cafferkey, T Cunniffe; T Mortimer, D Vaughan (0-3), K Higgins; S O’Shea, A O’Shea; K McLoughlin, A Dillon, A Moran (0-2); E Varley (0-2, one free), A Freeman, C O’Connor (1-3, 0-3 frees).
Subs used: R McGarrity for A O’Shea (48 mins); L Keegan (0-1) for Feeney (48 mins); A Campbell for Freeman (54 mins), J Doherty for Varley (58 mins).
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)