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Minors have salvaged our season

Sean Rice
Derek Moran

Minors have salvaged our season



Seán RiceSeán Rice

THE manner of their victory as much as the margin was confirmation enough. What doubts the minors left behind in Croke Park were wiped away inside four minutes at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick.
That’s how long it took Mayo to re-assert the superiority that should have earned them victory in the drawn game. This time there was nothing marginal about it. No questions were left hanging in the air. Inaccuracy did not mar their command. Their authority almost from the beginning was emphatic.
Kerry lasted as long as it took Aidan Walsh to stick the ball in their net in the fourth minute. For the remainder of the match the perception of the kingdom’s invincibility was dismantled score by score, minute by minute.
The frightening statistic that the Munster champions had outscored Mayo by a whopping five goals and twelve points in their respective campaigns had sprouted uncertainty about Mayo’s capacity to re-establish their form of the drawn game.
But faltering disbelief in their own abilities was never entertained by Ray Dempsey¹s flying squad. The opposition did not hold for them the fear that their senior counterparts hold for others. Inspired by Walsh’s goal Mayo’s flair on the slippery conditions was more than Kerry could match.
Most of all they played with heart. They tackled fiercely, time and again their touch and timing denying Kerry the room to develop their game.
Inevitably, questions will be raised about the quality of the Kerry side. Were they as bad as they looked in Limerick or were Mayo that good? Although full-forward Barry John Walsh scored 3-3 against Offaly, and a total of 6-23 in six games, Kerry did struggle against Clare and Cork and were held to a draw by Tipperary — although they won the replay by ten points.
Because they come from Kerry you expect formidable opposition. The confidence that senior success has bred in them sustained their minors throughout the drawn match, and might well have gifted them a victory they would not have deserved.
That perception led us to wonder if Mayo would survive the replay. As things turned out Kerry for once flattered to deceive. They did not have the qualities expected of them. They were in fact a poor side, and might have made Mayo seem better than they really are. The final will tell us all.
Determined to progress on the good fortune they enjoyed in securing a replay Kerry started brightly. They attacked as if to get over with it fast, to show that the draw was no more than a minor aberration on the path towards their All-Ireland objective.
Centre-half back Jamie O’Sullivan shot them into the lead in the third minute.
It was the only time they led during the hour, and it lasted less than a minute, vanishing in the blur of a perfect pass delivered by Raymond Geraghty to Aidan Walsh who had stolen behind the defence and who cooly cracked the ball into the net.
Colm O’Shea pulled a point back for the Munster men in the 7th minute, but they failed to score again for seventeen minutes. In that space of time Mayo had raced into a lead of ten points.
We waited for the game to snap back to reality, for Kerry to bounce back and Mayo’s anticipated temporary phase of control to come to an end. Deadened by so much underachievement our faith in our footballers has fallen too low.
bUT this was for real. This was a young Mayo urging us to keep the faith.
Their tight-marking defence had once more erected the shutters. Barry John Walsh, Kerry’s anchor man, who did not enjoy the most lucrative of days in Croke Park, struggled once again in the shadow of the excellent Kevin Keane.
They moved him out on Eoin Reilly in the second half, and the Castlebar man was no more accommodating. Both centre-backs were the cornerstones of a virtual impenetrable defence in which David Dolan, John Broderick, Shane McHale and Shane Nally were all quite superb.
And in the final minutes when the game was won and Kerry sought to save some face, Robert Hennelly denied them with a breathtaking save from Barry John Walsh, the man in whom Kerry put their faith to reach the final.
Hennelly had conceded no goal throughout the competition until this replay. Nor could he have been faulted for the one that Walsh forced over his line in the 24th minute. It came from a sideline kick by James O’Donoghue that curled dangerously in towards the goal. Amid a host of straining legs, the full-forward’s boot got there first.
It was Kerry’s first score in seventeen minutes and one that might have unlocked their potential. But by halftime Aidan Walsh had recouped two points from frees, and with them the growing certainty that this Mayo held no Kerry baggage.
Walsh was at the end of a sturdy spine that Ray Dempsey and his selectors have built in the side. Down the centre there is durability. Kevin Keane, Eoin Reilly, James Cafferty, Ger McDonagh, Aidan O’Shea and Aiden Walsh are the foundation on which the flanks thrive.
Cafferty and McDonagh gave a splendid service from midfield. Aidan O’Shea on the forty-five used all his strength and confidence to cut through the Kerry defence and he thrived on the punishment they dished out. Inside him Aiden Walsh was not beaten for any ball he contested.
Hi coolness under pressure, his accuracy and his positioning sense earned him a total of 1-6.
Kerry looked to midfield for revival. But Colm Moriarity and Wayne Guthrie were outmaneuvered by McDonagh and Cafferty who maintained the dominant role he produced in Croke Park.
The flanks were no less essential to Mayo’s overall performance. Raymond Geraghty and Cathal Freeman were always in the action, vigorously supporting and tackling in the half-forward line.
John Carney, who did not figure in the drawn match, worked extremely hard as a third midfielder before giving way to Dean Gavin, who proved his importance as an invaluable sub scoring Mayo’s third goal, the ball helped over the line by Alex Corduff.
If that goal killed off Kerry’s hopes, Corduff also contributed to their woes with Mayo’s second goal.
The finish may have been fortuitous, but the execution was brilliant and due reward for Geraghty’s alacrity in intercepting a pass.
The Ballintubber man’s high shot rebounded off a post and into the arms of the unmarked corner forward who sank it in the net.
Jamie O’Sullivan at centre-half back and Daithi Casey at centre-half forward did their best to stir a Kerry recovery, but were unable to awaken an effective response. Compared to Mayo they were lifeless.
It seems they are human after all.
If Mayo surprised us in Croke Park with their coolness and passion their rout of Kerry in Limerick was equally unexpected.
Support for them came in much greater numbers to the replay and they were not disappointed.
But that 23-year-old barrier to repossession of the Tom Markham Cup still confronts them. And in their dismissal of Meath in the semi-final on Sunday, Tyrone produced a classic performance. They are formidable opposition.
However, the minors have so far salvaged for us some hope from an otherwise disappointing year. Our All-Ireland interests are sustained for a few more weeks.