Minors left downed and out
ESB All-Ireland Minor Championship
YOU look at the scoreline and may feel you have a handle on how this match played itself out at Cusack Park, Ennis last Sunday.
Kerry had four points to spare in the finish; their two goals ultimately proving the difference between the teams, with each side scoring nine times. Ergo, there was very little to choose between the combatants.
If this was your conclusion from a cursory glance at the final score, then you’d be half-right. The two goals were essentially the game-breaking moments, arriving as they did in the closing minutes of each half at times when the match was finely-balanced.
But there was more to Mayo’s defeat than that. Kerry were physically stronger in the key positions, they played a simple, incisive brand of football, and they had a couple of marquee players like Micheal Moloney, Tommy Walsh and Paddy Curran who stepped into the breach when needed.
Mayo, by contrast, took far too long to settle, were outmuscled in a number of individual battles, and struggled to cope with Kerry’s direct style in the first half when the wind gusted into their faces.
“We felt coming into half-time that if we could keep it to two or three points we’d be happy, because it was a very strong wind,” said Mayo manager Eugene Ivers afterwards. “The goal really rocked the lads. We fought hard in the second half but never got in to threaten their goal. We were leaving ourselves open at the back at that stage and, eventually, they caught us.”
LYDON THE LIONHEART Mayo’s Liam Lydon (left), who worked non-stop on Sunday, is tackled by Kerry’s Bryan Costello during Sunday’s ESB All-Ireland MInor FC quarter-final in Cusack Park, Ennis.
A match that was played at a frenetic pace also passed a handful of Mayo men by. From start to finish only the diminutive Liam Lydon at centre-forward really tore into the opposition as he would have liked. The likes of Liam Tunney, Kevin McLoughlin, Kieran Barrett, Tom Parsons and Pierce Hanley improved dramatically as the match wore on, but Mayo had no player to pull the strings decisively throughout.
Ivers unveiled five changes in personnel from the team that performed so anemically in the Connacht Final. There were also eleven positional switches with four players thrown in for their first game in the championship.
It was a gamble; and after 15 minutes it looked to have back-fired.
Things started promisingly enough when the hugely-impressive Liam Lydon clipped a fine score on the run from the right wing to ease Mayo in front. There were four minutes gone but Kerry were only getting started. Over the next eleven minutes they used the stiff breeze to their advantage and shot six points without reply.
Great holes were being carved in Mayo’s defence and scores rained over, four from play from long-range from Garry Sayers, Tommy Walsh, Paddy Curran and David Moran. Curran, Kerry’s captain, also tagged on a couple of frees and Kerry led by 0-6 to 0-1.
Things were looking ominous. The towering Tommy Walsh and Garry O’Driscoll had established a stranglehold on midfield while Kerry’s fleet-footed forwards had Mayo’s smaller, lighter backs on the run.
It was at this juncture that Liam Lydon came into his own, scrapping and foraging for breaks. His enthusiasm seemed to rub off on the likes of Kieran Barrett, Tom Parsons, Thady Gavin and Damien Keane. A few passes were strung together, chances were created and missed, before Pierce Hanley converted a free in the 18th minute and the irrepressible Lydon wormed his way through to score from play on 22 minutes.
Mayo were working hard and it was paying off. Their confidence was visibly returning and the gap had been reduced to three points.
Then came the first sucker-punch. It was conceived when a high centre from Paddy Curran dropped around the 14 yard line, Mayo goalkeeper Alvin McCallig came rushing from his goal to intervene, but Kerry’s Johnny Buckley, who had his back to goal, beat McCallig to the punch and the ball trickled into the empty net.
Damien Keane tossed over a free three minutes into stoppage-time but it was Kerry who jogged down the tunnel at half-time with a spring in their step, leading by 1-6 to 0-4.
The second half saw Mayo throw their inhibitions to the wind. They went for it. They had to, as Kerry’s stylish corner-forward Garry Sayers lobbed over a sweet score four minutes after the restart to extend Kerry’s advantage to six: (1-7 to 0-4).
But Mayo dominated the next twenty minutes, without ever threatening to overhaul their composed opponents. Ruairi O’Connor and Kieran Barrett started to push forward from defence, Brian Gallagher was brought on around the middle, and Liam Lydon continued to press and probe for gaps.
Possession wasn’t the problem; finding a way past Kerry’s imposing defenders and splitting the posts regularly was far more of an issue. And for all their territorial dominance just three points arrived from Damien Keane (free) in the eighth minute, Donal Gallagher on 15 minutes and Brian Gallagher on 20. It was 1-7 to 0-7 with ten minutes remaining and the arrival of dashing wing-back Donal Vaughan and impish forward Ger O’Boyle strengthened Mayo’s hand.
In truth though, Kerry never looked rattled. Their manager, John Kennedy, made some changes, kept Mayo at arm’s length, and then his team finished the game off.
They had gone 23 minutes without a score when midfielder Tommy Walsh leapt like a salmon to claim a high ball. On landing, he burst forward and fed David Moran who was on his shoulder. The son of ‘Ogie’ drew a defender and slipped a pass to Eoin Kennedy, a sub’ who had been brought on by his father.
His close-range finish to the net was exquisite, smacked between Alvin McCallig and his right-hand post clinically. It was now 2-7 to 0-7 and Mayo were out.
To their credit they never let their heads drop. Their reward was two late points from subs Gerry O’Boyle and Conor Jordan who both pounced on loose balls in a congested defence. It was a positive note on which to end another trophy-less minor campaign, but the feeling persists that this crop’s season turned on their flat Connacht Final performance.
“The passion wasn’t there that day,” admitted Eugene Ivers. “If you haven’t got passion you’re up against it. But Mayo will be back”
T Mac an tSaor; B Russell, M Moloney, S O’Se; S Enright, A Greaney, B Costello; T Walsh (0-1), G O’Driscoll; J Buckley (1-0), P Curran (0-3, 2fs), D Moran (0-1); G Sayers (0-2), P Curtin, J Doolan. Subs used: D O’Shea for Buckley; E Kennedy (1-0) for Doolan; S Browne for Rusell; R Aghas for Greaney.
A McCallig; L Tunney, B Gibbons, R O’Connor; K McLoughlin, K Barrett, J Griffin; T Parsons, D Egan; P Hanley (0-1, 1f), L Lydon (0-2), T Gavin; D Gallagher (0-1), D Keane (0-2, 2fs), M Sweeney. Subs used: D Vaughan for Griffin; B Gallagher (0-1) for Egan; G O’Boyle (0-1) for Sweeney; C Jordan (0-1) for Gavin.
Referee: D Fahy (Longford)