GETTING TO GRIPS Mayo’s Shane Nally is tackled by Kerry’s Peter Crowley during Saturday night’s game in Tralee. Pic: Sportsfile
WHILE communities across the country are engaged in pounding their bodies into shape, an Operation Transformation of minds was unfolding in Tralee on Saturday night.
In an astonishing conversion at Austin Stack Park, a bedraggled Mayo emerged from a slumbering first half, at the end of which they trailed by four points, to stun Kerry with an unexpected two-point win.
Two versions of the one Mayo defined their game; a Mayo initially no different from their listlessness of the previous week were succeeded after the break by a Mayo with a championship mindset.
But their awakening could have been too late. Kerry, so dominant in the early stages of the game, must have wondered why their lead was not much greater than the four points that separated them at the interval.
All over the pitch they had lorded it. Mayo followers in the attendance of almost 9,000 groaned as they watched the Kerrymen slice through paper-thin defensive cover, watched Mayo pinned in their own half, scrambling desperately to clear their lines.
It was all so different in the second half for the huge Mayo following, although the win was blemished by the dismissal of Tom Parsons for what seemed an unnecessary intervention in a disturbance seconds from the end of the game.
Mayo started with two changes from the announced side, Conor O’Shea replacing Evan Regan and Andy Moran standing in for Alan Freeman.
The inclusion of Moran in the attack was inspired. In that first half, while most of his colleagues were floundering, Andy – rejuvenated, hungry and persistent – was the star of the show, the one forward that seemed capable of hurting high-flying Kerry.
It was, however, another Moran that was driving Kerry ... together with his midfield mate Jack Barry.
In complete control, Barry’s running through the centre had Mayo in a tizzy, while David Moran’s centre led to Kerry’s goal by Barry John Keane in the 30th minute.
Goal chances were also denied Adrian Spillane when his blistering shot rebounded off the crossbar, and David Moran, whose penalty was stopped by the brilliant David Clarke. The Mayo goalkeeper, in fine fettle, also saved the close-in shot that immediately preceded the penalty.
In a whirlwind start Kerry’s Barry, Jack Savage and Paul Geaney had posted points before Tom Parsons opened Mayo’s account in the fourth minute.
Cillian O’Connor exchanged points with both Geaney and Barry John Keane. But by the time Andy Moran had Mayo’s fourth point, Kerry were still three ahead.
Their command was such that Keane’s goal in the 30th minute was inevitable, and although Cillian O’Connor reduced the lead to four points from frees, the hosts were in no way flattered by their lead of 1-7 to 0-6 at the break.
Staggeringly, Mayo stormed into the second half inspired. Benefiting from the half-time changes that had Paddy Durcan moved to his customary wing-back attacking role, Stephen Coen and Donal Vaughan switching places, newcomer Eoin O’Donoghue moving to corner back, and O’Connor taking charge on the ‘40’.
Within 15 minutes Mayo had wiped out the half-time deficit. Parsons and Coen had assumed control at midfield, Conor O’Shea pulled in a point that could have been a goal; Kevin McLoughlin was similarly on song, and O’Connor, orchestrating play superbly from the ‘40’, banged over three points from frees (nine in total) conceded by Kerry’s panicking defence.
Suddenly and surprisingly, the Kingdom was overwhelmed.
Bolstering their resurgence with timely changes Mayo grew stronger and Andy Moran, an eternal threat, had the sides level in the 53rd minute after good work by Fergal Boland. Together with O’Connor, he cemented their recovery with the winning points.
Kerry’s total was a mere three points in the second half which was a tribute to the towering work of the Mayo defence after the break. Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle, Paddy Durcan and Donie Newcombe were the key figures.
D Clarke; D Newcombe, K Higgins, P Durcan; S Coen, C Boyle, D Drake; D Vaughan, T Parsons (0-1); F Boland, C O’Connor (0-9, 9f), C O’Shea (0-1); K McLoughlin (0-1) A Moran (0-3), J Doherty.
Subs: E O’Donoghue for Drake; D O’Connor for Boland; S Nally for Vaughan; E Regan for Doherty; M Plunkett for Regan (black card); D Kirby for O’Shea.
B Kelly; R Shanahan, M Griffin, K Young; J Lyne, P Crowley, T Morley; D Moran, J Barry (0-2); A Spillane, P Murphy (0-1), D Walsh; J Savage (0-1), P Geaney (0-2), C Keane.
Subs used: BJ Keane (1-3) for Geaney; T O’Sullivan for Young; C Geaney (0-1) for C Keane; J Foley for Shanahan; B O’Sullivan for Lyne (black card).
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh)