Sides to meet again back at Croke Park
SUNDAY was moving day in the National Football League so Mayo had plenty of reasons to be pleased with themselves as they made the long journey home from Kerry later that evening.
A battling performance earned them the point they needed to sneak into the Division 1 semi-finals and, considering they had played the last 25 minutes with only fourteen men, it was a noteworthy achievement all things considered.
Their reward for picking up seven points from their adventures this spring is a rematch with Kerry again next Sunday at Croke Park in the last four.
For James Horan, a manager who makes no secret of his desire for the team to learn from all their experiences, this will be a glorious opportunity to assess the true state of their health on the biggest of stages.
Interestingly, the Mayo boss sounded a little disappointed after last Sunday’s game that his team hadn’t managed to quarry a late, winning score despite their numerical disadvantage.
Chances had presented themselves to Conor Mortimer, Andy Moran and Evan Regan down the home stretch but none of them was taken.
At the other end, Kerry were unable to show the cutting edge or killer instinct either that we have come to expect from the O’Sullivans or ‘Gooch’ Cooper.
Instead, it was left to the trusty place-kicking of Bryan Sheehan to deliver the scores that left the sides deadlocked at the end of a frantic, exciting game.
The Mayo management had hoped to run the rule over some fringe players and qualify for the semi-finals, all in one fell swoop last weekend.
They can be quite pleased then after watching Eoin O’Reilly, Danny Geraghty, Jason Gibbons and Evan Regan get some game-time while the result also took care of itself.
The performance of Gibbons, in particular, certainly caught the eye as the Ballintubber midfielder formed an impressive partnership with Aidan O’Shea until they both tired in the closing stages.
O’Shea put in another excellent shift, driving Mayo forward, and his battle with Bryan Sheehan was one of the highlights of a cold, windswept afternoon.
The direction of the game turned on Maurice Condon’s decision to book Lee Keegan for the second time eleven minutes into the second half after he tangled with Paul Galvin.
It seemed a harsh decision and when the Westport defender left the field, Kerry utilised wing-back, Peter Crowley, as the ‘spare man’ and threw caution to the wind.
Mayo were leading at the time by 1-11 to 0-8 — Kevin McLoughlin, Cillian O’Connor (free) and Alan Dillon having nailed points in the early stages after the restart.
They seemed to have engineered themselves into an ideal position, with the strong wind behind them, but Kerry went for the jugular with the extra man.
Crowley relished his new-found freedom and with Jack O’Connor also pitching in Darran and Declan O’Sullivan, along with Marc Ó Sé, to aid the rescue mission, the tide began to turn slowly but surely.
Andy Moran’s long-range point in the 47th minute was Mayo’s final contribution to the scoreboard.
Paul Galvin cancelled that score out seconds later before Colm Cooper went to ground in the square under a heavy challenge, and Bryan Sheehan swept the resultant penalty past David Clarke.
It was the first goal the Ballina goalkeeper had conceded in this campaign and pared the gap back to two points on 52 minutes.
An arm-wrestle of sorts developed in the last quarter with Kerry tacking on a couple of frees from the unflappable Sheehan to level the game once and for all.
The first half had been a very different state of affairs.
Mayo enjoyed a pronounced advantage around the middle of the field from the get-go as Aidan O’Shea exerted a big influence, working in tandem with the energetic Jason Gibbons.
With Kevin McLoughlin, Andy Moran and Alan Dillon gobbling up the breaks, the visitors raced into a 0-3 to 0-1 lead with the industrious Jason Doherty and Cillian O’Connor (two frees) on the mark.
Kerry’s initial response was ominous as Colm Cooper and Paddy Curtin finished sweeping moves with scores to tie the game after 16 minutes.
But Mayo were starting to find their groove and as they continued to move the ball quickly, and force the pace, a cluster of scores arrived in a devastating burst.
They hit 1-5 in the space of eight minutes; the goal arriving on 21 minutes when Jason Doherty palmed Cillian O’Connor’s pass to the Kerry net.
Three close-range frees from O’Connor, a 45m conversion by David Clarke, and a superb point from Kevin McLoughlin supplemented the scoring spree.
Mayo were 1-8 to 0-3 ahead when the dust settled but Kerry finished the half strongly with Bryan Sheehan thumping over a couple of long-range frees, and ‘Gooch’ Cooper and Paddy Curtin also escaping from Keith Higgins and Eoin O’Reilly to swing over points.
Cooper also had a brilliantly-taken goal disallowed after he was deemed to have scooped the ball off the ground. The decision didn’t dilute the quality of the side-step and finish, however.
It was 1-8 to 0-7 at the change of ends, and Mayo were on target to achieve their objective.
In the end they did, albeit after a few ups and downs, but at this stage of the season the end justifies the means.
Croke Park here we come.
B Kelly; S Enright, K Young, B McGuire; P Crowley, E Brosnan, J Lyne; B Sheehan (1-6, 1-0 pen, 6fs), K Donaghy; D O’Callaghan, BJ Keane, J Buckley; C Cooper (0-2), P Curtin (0-3), K O’Leary.
Subs used: P Galvin (0-1) for D O’Callaghan (half-time); Darran O’Sullivan for BJ Keane (half-time); M Ó Sé for E Brosnan (45 mins); Declan O’Sullivan for K O’Leary (47 mins); J O’Donoghue for J Buckley (58 mins).
D Clarke (0-1, 45); G Cafferkey, E Reilly, K Higgins; D Geraghty, D Vaughan, L Keegan; J Gibbons, A O’Shea; K McLoughlin (0-2), A Moran (0-1), A Dillon (0-1); C O’Connor (0-6, 6fs); J Doherty (1-1), M Conroy.
Subs used: K Keane for E Reilly (47 mins); C Mortimer for M Conroy (48 mins); E Regan for C O’Connor (55 mins); S McHale for J Doherty (68 mins).
Referee: M Condon (Waterford)
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