Honour in defeat
IF ever there was defeat with honour, this was it. Mayo minors relinquished their All-Ireland minor crown at Croke Park on Sunday against a superior Kerry side.
There was a certain sadness to their demise given the fact they lost their captain and talisman Cian Hanley, who was forced to leave the field after 23 minutes with a knee injury. It was a crippling blow, as much of Mayo’s play revolved around the brilliant Ballaghaderreen man. He had suffered a collar-bone injury at the corresponding stage last year that ruled him out of the All –Ireland final.
We shall never know how the game would have panned out had he remained on the field for the duration. But at the end of the day, there can be no denying that Kerry was the better team, particularly in the second half, when their superior teamwork, composure and skill levels came to the fore.
Mayo marginally edged the rather pedestrian first half by four points to three. But it looked only a matter of time before Kerry would make the breakthrough for some telling scores, given the pressure they were exerting on the Mayo rearguard.
That they didn’t in the first half was down to some magnificent goalkeeping and defending, particularly in the full-back line. Eoin O’Donoghue and Seamus Cunniffe in particular were simply outstanding in repelling Kerry goal chances as they denied them repeatedly with some copy-book defending. The much-vaunted Killian Spillane got very little change out of the Ballaghaderreen man during this portion of the game, but the Kerryman fared better in the second period.
Mayo fully deserved their slender lead in the first half and with a little luck they could have registered more scores. Their points in the opening period came from Cian Hanley (free), Fionán Duffy and Gary Boylan (two frees), with Killian Spillane kicking two frees for the Kingdom and Mark O’Connor adding the other.
Kerry came out a transformed team in the second half as they rattled off three unanswered points inside eight minutes from Micheál Burns, Killian Spillane and Liam Carey. Substitute Carey was outstanding when he came on and certainly helped Jack O’Connor’s side to turn the screw on Enda Gilvarry’s side.
As the half progressed, Kerry gained a foothold on the game. Nowhere did this manifest itself more than at midfield, where Barry O’Sullivan and Mark O’Connor won the lion’s share of possession. Wing backs Brian Sugrue and Cormac Coffey came forward with purpose at every opportunity, making it very difficult for an overworked Mayo defence. Kerry’s kick-passing was a feature of their play as they built from the back.
Mayo enjoyed quite a lot of the ball, but they showed a propensity to take the ball into the tackle and lost it repeatedly to the hard-tackling Munster champions. Kerry’s breakthrough arrived on 41 minutes when Tomás Ó Sé just beat Matthew Flanagan to the ball and found the net, after great build-up play from Brian Sugrue and Cormac Coffey. A minute later, TJ Byrne hit the net at the other end to illustrate Mayo’s fighting qualities. The assist came from Matthew Ruane, who later fractured his arm.
A Brian Reape point shortly afterwards drew an immediate response from Kerry, with points from Matthew Flaherty and Killian Spillane. The Kingdom then won a penalty but Matthew Flanagan brought off a great save from Jordan Kiely’s effort. Immediately afterwards, an impressive Gary Boylan kept Mayo in touch with a fine point.
However, Kerry found another gear as they kicked five points without reply from Ó Sé, Carey (two), goalkeeper Shane Ryan (free) and Spillane (free). In a last show of defiance, the outstanding TJ Byrne fisted a goal from Boylan’s free.
The final whistle left the Kingdom deserving winners, but Mayo gave up their crown with honour. We thank them and their management team for another great effort.
S Ryan (0-1); D O’Donoghue, B Ó Beaglaoích, T O’Sullivan; C Coffey, A Barry, B Sugrue; B O’Sullivan, M O’Connor (0-1); M Flaherty (0-1), B Rayle, M Burns (0-1); J Kiely, K Spillane (0-6, 4f), T O’Sé (1-1).
Subs used: L Carey (0-3) for B Rayle (h-t); L Kearney for M Flaherty (45 mins); R Wharton for B Sugrue (52 mins); S O’Sullivan for J Kiely (55 mins); I Parker for K Spillane (60 mins); S Ryan for M Burns (62 mins).
M Flanagan; E O’Donoghue, S Cunniffe, C Kilkenny; J Forkan, B Duffy, S Conlon; G Walsh, M Ruane; G Boylan (0-4, 3f), TJ Byrne (2-0), S Akram; F Duffy (0-1), C Hanley (0-2), B Reape (0-1).
Subs used: L Byrne for C Hanley (23 mins, inj); S Brennan for C Kilkenny (41 mins, black card); D Clarke for J Forkan (46 mins); K Hopkins for M Ruane (49 mins, inj); J Reilly for F Duffy (58 mins); D Cannon for S Conlon (60 mins).
Referee: S Hurson (Tyrone)