Up and running
THERE’S nothing quite like a victory to rally the troops and galvanise the whole Mayo GAA operation as the National League pace starts to quicken.
The natives may not have been getting restless just yet, but the 8,693 patrons that turned up last Sunday (99.9% of them shouting for Mayo) certainly left MacHale Park feeling a little better about the team’s short-term prospects after this first win at the third time of asking.
“It was just about getting two points today, I didn’t care how we did it to be honest,” admitted James Horan afterwards.
In truth, it was how most Mayo followers would have felt as well, the need to get this campaign up and running far outweighing the quest for artistic endeavour at this stage.
Fortunately, there was some style mixed in with the Mayo substance that was required to break down Kerry’s stubborn resistance.
The fact that the sides were level on eight occasions underlines how closely contested things were for long spells; Mayo finished like a train though, shooting the last six points of the game and holding Kerry scoreless for the final twenty minutes to freewheel across the line in the end.
Mayo’s bench made a big impact down the home stretch with fit-again duo Donie Vaughan and Seamie O’Shea appearing for the first time since the All-Ireland Final to help close the game out.
Enda Varley also caught the eye after his cameo appearance, one audacious long-range point proving a big hit with the crowd.
However, it was the man of the match display from Alan Freeman that garnered most attention.
His goal after 30 seconds got the Mayo show on the road and he went on to lead the inside line impressively, shooting five points, showing well, and making the most of his first NFL start. “He’s in good shape, playing well, it was no surprise,” remarked Horan.
Jason Doherty also marked his recall with a well-taken goal on 36 minutes, and he nailed a point from distance to supplement an energetic day’s work.
Both of Mayo’s goals came at the end of slick passing moves and underlined the improvement in their ‘off loading’ game since the defeats to Kildare and Tyrone.
Sure, they left plenty of room for improvement with Horan bemoaning the “rust” and “dirty petrol” that saw his team concede 0-11 in the opening half with some untypical flat-footed and sluggish defending.
However, the redeployment of All Star Keith Higgins to the backline brought some badly-needed experience to the sector while his surging line-breaking runs proved invaluable when Mayo were on the front foot.
Despite Freeman’s early strike, the score was tied six times during the opening half with Kerry’s movement and skill causing Mayo plenty of problems.
James O’Donoghue and Barry John Keane clipped two points from play each, while the lively Conor Cox (free) and Stephen O’Brien nudged the visitors deservedly ahead by 0-11 to 1-6 on the cusp of half-time.
Mayo’s running game came to the rescue though, as they came thundering down the middle, exchanging handpasses, before Lee Keegan and Shane McHale linked up to place Jason Doherty for a daisy-cutter finish to the net.
Mayo led by 2-7 to 0-11 at the break.
Kerry duly came roaring back after the resumption, with Stephen O’Brien firing in a spectacular goal on 38 minutes when his audacious shot dipped wickedly and deceived Robbie Hennelly in the Mayo goal.
Remarkably, rather than kick on, Kerry were outscored by 0-8 to 0-1 in the last thirty minutes as Mayo’s strength-in-depth told decisively.
Brendan Harrison and Ger Cafferkey locked down Kerry’s inside forwards, while Robbie Hennelly also produced a smart save to deny Barry John Keane a goal.
Elsewhere, Lee Keegan and Keith Higgins continued to drive on and the scores flowed with Alan Freeman (4, three frees, including a long-range effort after he took over from the luckless Robbie Hennelly), Kevin McLoughlin and Enda Varley all hitting the target down the home stretch.
“We kept at it, kept plugging away, and we finished very strong which was very encouraging,” said James Horan in summary.
That was more than enough on the day that was in it.
R Hennelly; B Harrison, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan (0-1), S McHale, C Boyle; A O’Shea, J Gibbons; K McLoughlin (0-4, 3fs), A Moran, J Doherty (1-1); A Gallagher (0-2, 2fs), A Freeman (1-5, 3fs), M Conroy (0-1).
Subs used: E Varley (0-1) for Gallagher (41); D Vaughan for McHale; S O’Shea for Gibbons (59); C Carolan for Conroy (65); D O’Connor for Moran (70).
B Kealy; P Murphy, M Griffin, S Enright; P Crowley, A O’Mahony, M O Se; A Maher, D Moran (0-1); D Walsh (0-1), J O’Donoghue (0-3, 1f), D Casey; BJ Keane (0-2), S O’Brien (1-2), C Cox (0-4, 3fs).
Subs used: F Fitzgerald for O’Mahony (ht); P Kilkenny for Enright (41) black card; M Geaney for Casey (55); J Sherwood for O Se (57); J Buckley for Walsh (58); B McGuire for Crowley (63).