Mayo must believe in better
THE sound of the coffers filling will be music to the ears of their administrators after Mayo’s draw with Kerry on Sunday.
To have pulled off a money-spinning semi-final slot in Tralee is more than most followers thought possible two weeks ago, and the achievement will ease somewhat the pressure on the board’s finances.
An injury-time point by Bryan Sheehan earned Kerry the draw in a nerve-tingling final quarter of an intensely fought match marked by the accuracy of the midfielder from frees.
But the thought of facing Mayo’s nemesis in that semi-final next Sunday after watching the manner in which Kerrymen clawed back an-eight-point lead is not an appealing prospect, and Mayo will have to draw on more than the positives from this encounter to oust the princes.
In Mayo’s favour is the fact that they survived with fourteen men for most of the second half after Lee Keegan was ordered to the line for two yellow card offences eleven minutes after the break.
They showed courage in holding the line after some of Kerry’s long established stars entered the fray in the second half. To have held out under the intense pressure they exerted is a positive.
But the manner in which Mayo frittered away a couple of easy chances of snatching a win still leaves the impression that even their most experienced players are in awe of Kerry.
While the Kingdom’s big guns were silent Mayo built up a lead of eight points. They were playing against the wind, Aidan O’Shea was quite brilliant in the middle of the field and Cillian O’Connor, Kevin McLouglin and Jason Doherty were picking off valuable scores.
The Breaffy man — with valuable assistance from Jason Gibbons — had more than an edge over acclaimed duo Kieran Donaghy and Sheehan throughout the opening half.
Kerry clearly saw O’Shea as the main threat to victory and crowded him out in the second half without, however, lessening the danger he posed to any great extent.
The Mayo lead was galvanised with a goal by Doherty on twenty minutes when he flicked a deft cross from O’Connor to the net. Minutes earlier Colm Cooper had the ball in the Mayo net, but it was disallowed because the Kerryman picked the ball illegally off the ground.
In that first half Cooper tantalised the defence on occasions and Mayo showed him too much respect. Like all of Kerry, Cooper is patently aware of the fear he instils in Mayo defences, and it is high time Mayo played Kerry with the courage and conviction they showed against Dublin.
Cooper was held on a tighter rein after the break when the pattern of play changed, and instead of feeding their forwards with long ball Kerry attacked from the half-back line, running at Mayo with traditional technique.
Mayo started with six changes from the side that beat Dublin and it is hard to find fault with the psychology employed by James Horan and his selectors in fielding a changed side.
To have lost on Sunday with the same team following the high octane stuff of the previous week carried the danger of a retreat into the common chasm of ambiguity and contradiction.
At the same time Horan was issuing a challenge to the replacements to prove themselves in the white heat of Kerry intimidation.
Colm Boyle cried off before the game and was replaced by Danny Geraghty, and at wing-back the Ballintubber man, together with the other changes, had been more than holding their own against a Kerry side without, it must be said, a lot of their stars.
By half-time Mayo’s lead had been cut to four points. And with Paul Galvin and company restless on the bench, you knew this game was by no means over.
SURE enough they made their entry to the huge acclamation of their supporters as hungry for victory as if this might be their first. In came Galvin and Darran O’Sullivan, who inflicted so much damage on Mayo in the championship last season.
But the man who began to open up the defence on this occasion was Marc Ó Sé, introduced a few minutes later. Cutting through from wing-back, the Ghaeltacht man made Cooper redundant and his incisive runs did more damage than Galvin and O’Sullivan together.
Mayo’s cause was not helped by the dismissal of their sterling wing-back Lee Keegan. In his absence it was feared that the two Kerry stars would run riot. They did play a big part in cutting the deficit, but Donal Vaughan, Ger Cafferkey and Keith Higgins policed them and Cooper reasonably well.
Kerry’s decisive score came from a penalty in the 52nd minute. Cooper was judged to have been fouled in the box in a controversial decision by referee Maurice Condon, and the faultless Sheehan tucked the spot kick in to the corner of the net.
It cut the lead to two points. From there on it was nip and tuck with Kerry dominating, prowling, goading. Mayo, although playing with the help of the wind, had not scored since Andy Moran flipped over their final point before a while Sheehan’s goal.
These were edge-of-the-seat final minutes with Mayo defending fiercely.
Conor Mortimer, who replaced Michael Conroy halfway through the second half, had a chance to snatch a Mayo win when entrusted with a free fifty yards out directly in front of the goal. But he refused to take on the responsibility, passing the ball instead to O’Shea out near the left sideline, a more difficult angle for a left-footed player . . . and the chance was lost.
So the rags-to-riches story continues on Sunday at Croke Park. And the old enemy will be happy to set about clobbering once more a team that dares to peep over their parapet.
We claimed some sort of moral victory in Mayo’s defeat by the kingdom in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final . . . until you realised that the gap at the end was nine-points wide.
In Tralee we sought some sort of validation of Mayo’s fine performance against Dublin. And while they did play with some assurance it has not quite lifted us beyond belief in their ability to beat Kerry.
And it is all about belief. Mayo have the football in them if only they would believe in themselves. If instead of standing back and waiting for Kerry to get possession before making the tackle, they would themselves force Kerry to begin doubting their own conviction.
Jack O’Connor will not leave anything to chance in Croke Park. Nothing but a full team will satisfy him as they demonstrate that hungry fervour for victory than no Kerry side seems to lack.
But it is a challenge Mayo need before the championship. They won’t have this opportunity again to test their progress. Hopefully they will draw some inspiration from their meetings with the old enemy.
To have finished fourth in the table will still be seen as a successful Mayo league campaign after the anxiety of some poor results. Division 2 is no longer an issue. The ignominy of the drop has been spared. The future may not be so dull after all.
Just a thought …
THE drop to Division 3 by Meath is one of the shocks of the Allianz League just ending. Together with the resignation of Seán Boylan as director of football it suggests not all is well within the county.