HAVING shadow-boxed with them all season, this was the moment they floored their phantoms. We watched, absorbed, as Mayo humbled a famous football power and gladdened our own sensibilities. And for once our hearts were not fully in our mouths.
It was a victory that debunked a few big egos and gave lie to the perception that Mayo were a spent force. It was vindication in its warmest, and for this old fossil, a birthday to remember.
From the throw-in – when Aidan O’Shea stormed forward to demonstrate that, like all accomplished footballers, no position is alien to him – the shackles were skied off, and Mayo, singularly assertive, became the masters.
Their five-points win did not reflect the control they enjoyed, and while experience has taught us not to put our trust into early leads, this was an occasion when chemistry and shared responsibility triumphed majestically throughout the 70 minutes.
That togetherness was encapsulated in the resolve of a difficult situation caused by the dismissal of their captain Cillian O’Connor 15 minutes into the second half.
Sidelined for a black-card offence with 20 minutes remaining, Mayo shrugged off the setback by even greater commitment. Every opportunity was pursued with impatience as if to finally rid themselves of association with a dismal record against their opponents.
It was all for one, a cohesiveness that has stood them apart. And each was heroic in whatever position he held, and how he held it.
There was positivity, too, in Stephen Rochford’s shunning of the howls of criticism that followed his decision to place Aidan O’Shea at full-back in the drawn game. Cleverly dividing full-back obligations early on between Donal Vaughan and brothers Aidan and Seamus O’Shea was the astute response of management, each alternating his normal duties with the role of central defender. Kerry were bemused.
The big man’s influence was unmistakable in every position he occupied, however temporarily. His main adversary Kieran Donaghy was a pale shadow of his previous performance, his dismissal the ultimate humiliation for a wild swing at his tormentor.
Aidan was of course only one piece in the completed jigsaw. Seamus plied his midfield duties with the central defensive position brilliantly and Tom Parsons has become the midfielder of his promise ... mature and innovative, and a classy fielder.
Having exhausted all of his energy, Seamie gave way to young Stephen Coen, who continues to maintain the standard set by the eldest of the O’Sheas. The work-rate of each was essential in dictating the trend of the game.
None of Kerry’s stars measured up. Unaccustomed to being forced into a defensive mindset, the Kingdom bore no stamp of past Kerry strategy. Outplayed and out-thought in most sectors, no plan they tried to contrive could douse the fire in Mayo’s hearts, or open the way to their net.
In a couple of incidents, Mayo’s determination was reflected in the perceptiveness of Colm Boyle in cutting off what could have been a game-changing effort by Paul Geaney five minutes into the second half at a frail moment in Mayo’s armour. On another occasion, the bond among the defenders helped ward off an uncontrolled but determined Kerry effort to get the ball into that net.There was nothing innovative in Mayo’s defending, just a total disregard for their own safety in hurtling their bodies at the feet of Kerrymen.
Boyle’s iron heart a source of inspiration
COLM Boyle was at the heart of the defence, his attacking mentality the scourge of the Kingdom. His iron heart inspired all, and all responded magnificently.
David Clarke was again superb and his kick-outs a huge improvement on the replay. Tightly knit, Brendan Harrison, Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan and Chris Barrett left no gap for Kerry to exploit, Higgins again sweeping splendidly.
Donal Vaughan – who began at full-back – played assuredly, unfazed by whatever Donaghy had to offer, until injury forced him off. Paddy Durcan with his attacking instinct was a competent substitute, always ready to give it a lash. Near the end he was also red-carded, the second offence very marginal.
Diarmuid O’Connor inflicted the first crippling wound on the Munster champions, availing of a half-hearted centre by Vaughan that would have fallen short but for the ever-alert Ballintubber man, who crossed from the left to deflect the ball to the net with his left hand.
It came eight minutes before half-time and it helped them to a five-point lead at the end of a half in which they had run Kerry ragged. How to maintain that pace and power was the question.
The answer came a couple of minutes into the second half. Conor Loftus, who had replaced Diarmuid O’Connor at the interval, was at the heart of it with a kick-pass measured perfectly to Andy Moran. The Ballagh’ man, drawing on all his powers of experience and wisdom set up Cillian O’Connor, and rushed in for the return pass bundling the ball, himself and a Kerryman into the back of the net.
It was the coup de grâce, gloriously administered by Moran, who continues to work wonders in the full forward line. His vision in winning ball and slipping opponents has lent him an aura of special quality.
Beside him Cillian O’Connor has long set his own standard as a forward of rare quality. He was all of that on Saturday and sacrificed his position with a black-card offence that otherwise might have ignited Kerry.
Another vital cog is Jason Doherty whose work ethic is often under-rated, but whose hard graft has been at the root of so many important scores. In assuming the free-taking responsibilities in the absence of Cillian O’Connor, he was equally adept.
Kevin McLoughlin in that pop-up anywhere role was once again blisteringly impressive. No one does it as well. He read the game intelligently and some of his points on Saturday were a fitting return for his work.
That perfect delivery by Conor Loftus, resulting in Andy’s goal, reflected the growing influence of the young Crossmolina man. And Stephen Coen is another of the younger set growing into the team bringing with him the inventiveness with which he led the county’s successful under-21 side.
For once Kerry’s confidence betrayed them. Experts at replays, they were expected to have learned more from the draw game. But they found a Mayo unlike so many other Mayo down the decades, a Mayo reflecting to the full their true abilities.
Consequently, their stars were on this occasion outshone, their play fragmented. Neither David Moran nor Jack Barry was able to provide any midfield power to settle them. And with the eclipse of their totem full-forward Kieran Donaghy (on whom they over-relied), only the occasional bursts from Paul Geaney, James O’Donoghue (when introduced) and Peter Crowley threatened.
But Mayo were not for turning.
Now, for the crowning glory.