To be continued. . .
IT would now seem beyond all reasonable doubt that a time will come in the not-too-distant future when we will reflect and give thanks for the current crop of Mayo footballers.
Since 2011 they have allowed us to dare to dream, and to chart their remarkable journey from also-rans to All-Ireland title contenders, one year after another.
Last Sunday was another milestone in their never-ending story; a blur of perpetual emotion, a pulsating championship match that left us breathless, another day for us to cherish.
And, when all was said and done, they were still standing.
There are still four teams left in the All-Ireland series, and James Horan’s group of dreamers, believers and and high achievers are still one of them.
Next Saturday evening they will go again and, on the evidence of what we witnessed in the second half here, it would take a brave man to bet against them finishing what they started.
Where to start with the 24th championship meeting of us and the aristocrats?
There were some many twists and turns, highs and lows, belts and whistles between Mayo’s steady start, Lee Keegan’s sending-off, lurching from five points down to five points up, seemingly winning it, possibly losing it, and then riding out the maelstrom until the dust settled.
It’s safe to say anybody with a heart condition in the crowd of 52,495 can consider themselves ‘stress tested’ after this particular rollercoaster ride.
Mayo certainly give value for money these days.
Consider these few observations by way of explanation: Mayo played for 40 minutes with only 14 men and outscored Kerry by 1-11 to 1-8 during that period.
When Lee Keegan was red carded on 34 minutes by David Coldrick for aiming a kick in the general direction of Donnchadh Walsh, Mayo were behind by 0-8 to 0-5.
They had only scored once in the previous 20 minutes (a point from the aforementioned All Star wing-back) and they had lost their way completely after trading scores with the Munster champions four times in the first quarter.
Half-time couldn’t come quick enough for Mayo in light of Keegan’s dismissal, and they jogged down the tunnel four points down.
Very few people (with the exception of Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh, who was introduced to the crowd during the interval) gave them any chance of turning things around.
They seemed leaden-footed, short of energy and high on anxiety. It seemed as if their collective race was run.
Their All-Ireland crusade looked to be in dire straits when James O’Donoghue (who had been well-policed by a combination of Keith Higgins and Tom Cunniffe in the first half) kicked Kerry ahead by 0-10 to 0-5 just seconds after the restart.
The mood was solemn among the Green and Red army.
However, the game was about to take an unexpected and sudden twist as Mayo finally sensed that the game was slipping beyond their grasp. Somebody needed to step up.
The revivial was kickstarted by an inspirational, trademark point from Alan Dillon. Then Cillian O’Connor tacked on a couple of frees, Colm Boyle landed a beauty, and Dillon and O’Connor posted stunning scores from distance.
Eleven minutes into the half and Mayo had drawn level for the fifth time (0-11 apiece). Their supporters had found their voice, the team had found their feet.
Twice 15-man Kerry swept downfield and edged ahead again; twice Jason Doherty and Andy Moran (in off the bench to lead the line) reeled them back in.
With Colm Boyle and Aidan O’Shea giving (and taking) hits for fun and hitting rucks, tackles and collisions like bumper-cars, Mayo were now dictating the rules of engagement.
It was no surprise then when Donie Vaughan went rampaging down the middle of the Kerry defence, where he was grounded by a shoulder into the back by Peter Crowley just as he was preparing to squeeze the trigger.
It was inside the square. Penalty. A county held its breath.
One of the Kerry ‘Golden Years’ forwards would have been proud of the way Cillian O’Connor absolutely buried the resultant kick past Brian Kelly. High, straight, true, goal.
By that stage O’Connor looked like he owned the place, and he rifled over a terrific point moments later to push Mayo ahead by 1-14 to 0-13 with ten minutes to go.
His personal tally clicked to 1-8 shortly afterwards when he slotted a free, as the 14-men of Mayo kicked for home.
There were still five points in it when Andy Moran (with a little help from Hawk Eye) landed his second score on 65 minutes. The finish line was in sight.
But the kind of lung-bursting, high-octane, mesmerizing football that Mayo had played to put themselves in that position was always likely to take its toll.
As they began to fade, Kerry rallied with a couple of points and sub Kieran Donaghy took control of the airways in front of Rob Hennelly’s goal.
A superb catch and off-load to James O’Donoghue saw the Kerry poster boy smash in a priceless goal on 68 minutes.
There was only one score in it.
The last few minutes were frantic as Tom Cunniffe missed a chance at one end to make it safe before Kieran O’Leary tied the game up at the Davin end in stoppage-time.
Mayo were fading fast as O’Donoghue missed a good chance to win it, and Bryan Sheehan’s late long-range free also dropped agonisingly short.
Nobody left empty-handed. Everybody must go again.
B Kelly; P Murphy (0-1), M Ó Sé, S Enright; P Crowley (0-1), A O’Mahony, F Fitzgerald (0-1); A Maher, D Moran (0-2); M Geaney (0-1), J Buckley (0-1), D Walsh (0-2); S O’Brien (0-1), P Geaney (0-1, 1f), J O’Donoghue (1-3).
Subs: Declan O’Sullivan for O’Brien (20); B Sheehan (0-1) for M Geaney (43); K Young for A O’Mahony (52); K Donaghy for Maher (59); BJ Keane for J Buckley (63); K O’Leary (0-1) for D Walsh (67).
R Hennelly; K Higgins, G Cafferkey, T Cunniffe; L Keegan (0-1), C Boyle (0-1), D Vaughan; J Gibbons, S O’Shea; K McLoughlin, A O’Shea, J Doherty (0-1); C O’Connor (1-8, 1-0pen, 5fs), A Freeman, A Dillon (0-3).
Subs used: T Parsons for J Gibbons (HT); A Moran (0-2) for A Freeman (48); M Conroy for J Doherty (54); M Sweeney for A Dillon (64); K Keane for G Cafferkey (70).
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)