THE BEGINNING OF THE END Kerry’s Declan O’Sullivan celebrates after scoring his side’s first goal in Sunday’s All-Ireland Final at Croke Park.
Kerry bury Mayo
SUNDAY evening in Croke Park and all is quiet. Kerry have left with their 34th All-Ireland senior title and Mayo have departed with nothing but broken hearts and shattered dreams.
Just another All-Ireland Final story that played out along predictable lines.
But it wasn’t supposed to end like this. This time it was supposed to be different. Wasn’t it?
We had faith. We had a family. We had something different. Mickey Moran and his management team had managed to convince thirty of the finest men in our county that they were every bit as good as Kerry. They had nothing to fear.
In the end, it turned out that nothing was different. And we had everything to fear from the most successful Gaelic football county in Ireland. Teams are judged on what happens on the biggest day of all; that is the reality of the situation.
Kerry arrived in peak condition and they took care of business clinically and efficiently. Mayo fell flat. Again.
The similarities to the All-Ireland Final of 2004 were incredible. Mayo’s failure to perform; the absence of a midfield presence when Kerry upped the ante in that sector; the inability to restrict top quality ball arriving into a razor-sharp full-forward line….The list goes on and on.
Kerry started the match as they meant to continue. Two quick points from Mike Frank Russell (one free) had them out in front and the floodgates were flung wide open on seven minutes. The move was started when a first-class cross-field ball from Seamus Moynihan took Keith Higgins out of the game and Colm Cooper released Declan O’Sullivan on the left wing.
Kerry’s captain was outstanding all day and his decisive one-two with Kieran Donaghy ended with O’Sullivan smacking the ball past a stranded David Clarke from close-range. It was the beginning of the end for Mayo.
Bad turned to worse inside sixty seconds when the influential Sean O’Sullivan delivered a probing ball into the full-forward line. Kieran Donaghy easily beat David Heaney in the air and when he landed, he crashed a right-footed shot into the roof of the net from ten yards. It was 2-2 to 0-0 and Mayo were sinking fast.
Kerry were rampant. Their half-back streamed forward, they had broken Mayo’s feeble resistance at midfield, and their half-forward line was doing as they pleased. One of this trinity, Sean O’Sullivan, then drilled over a fine score from distance to stretch Kerry’s lead to nine and Mickey Moran decided to make a move.
His decision to withdraw James Nallen on eleven minutes may yet turn out to be one of the defining images of Mayo’s recent football history. On in his place came David Brady, who went to full-back to pick up the troublesome Donaghy, with David Heaney moving to centre-back.
Aidan O’Mahony sauntered upfield to ease Kerry ten clear but Mayo turned a corner in the final 25 minutes of the half. Brady got stuck into the task of marking Kerry’s target-man and gradually, slowly, Mayo began to gain some semblance of a foothold.
In the 16th minute they struck for their first score. Billy Padden, Ciaran McDonald and Aidan Higgins were all involved in the move that placed Kevin O’Neill in behind the cover, and his finish was inch-perfect. It was 2-4 to 1-0.
Kerry’s response was emphatic. They continued to bombard Mayo’s full-back line and despite the best efforts of David Brady, points rained over from Paul Galvin and Kieran Donaghy to open up a nine point gap.
That became a twelve point chasm in the 26th minute when a pin-point pass released Colm Cooper and despite the best efforts of David Clarke – who pushed the initial shot onto the post – the Gooch followed up to slip the ball to the net.
Billy Padden and the outstanding Seamus Moynihan traded points before Mayo stumbled upon a purple patch in the closing minutes of the half. First, Ciaran McDonald lobbed over a free before Pat Harte soccer-styled a loose ball to Kevin O’Neill, took the return, and cracked a shot past Diarmuid Murphy.
Sixty seconds later and McDonald’s audacious attempt for a point came back off the post to the goal-hanging O’Neill. His finish was deft and accurate and Mayo were back in the match.
The half-time whistle sounded with Kerry leading by 3-8 to 3-2 after an incredible first half. Mayo had managed to claw their way back into something resembling contention. People shook their heads and wondered were the Gods conspiring to make it Mayo’s day. Sadly, they were mistaken.
Kerry controlled midfield so capably in the opening half that it was almost impossible to see them relinquish control of that area. They were first to the breaks, gobbled up Mayo’s runners, and delivered early, low ball to their able marksmen.
The arrival of Eoin Brosnan for the second half further strengthened Kerry’s hold and the second half, for the most part, resembled a procession. Mayo made the odd sortie towards the opposition posts but, for the most part, Kerry did as they pleased and eased home well in front.
Colm Cooper swung over a couple of quality points with a neat score from Eoin Brosnan sandwiched in the middle to leave Mayo staring at an ominious, 3-11 to 3-2 scoreline after 54 minutes.
Nineteen long, sobering minutes of the second half had elapsed when Conor Mortimer pointed a 13m free to open his own account. It was also Mayo’s first score since the restart and by then the presentation area was being readied.
The last quarter was as predictable as it was disappointing. Mayo ran at Kerry and did their best to avoid a hammering but there was no way around it.
Ciaran McDonald’s influence was severely blunted by close marking, over-elaboration and, surely, his brittle hamstring. Alan Dillon and Kevin O’Neill were both taken off, and every single line on the pitch was being dominated by the winners.
Kerry finished with three points from the rampaging Aidan O’Mahony, sub’ Bryan Sheehan (free) and the economical Declan O’Sullivan. Mayo’s meagre response was a brace of 13m frees from the subdued Conor Mortimer and the team’s failure to score from play in the second half illuminates their shortcomings.
The last word was left to Kerry. Two minutes of injury-time had been played when Eoin Brosnan skipped through to stab in his fifth goal of the championship. Again, David Clarke stopped his first shot but the rebound fell favourably for the scorer.
The final whistle doubled as an act of mercy.
D Murphy; M O Se, M McCarthy, T O’Sullivan; T O Se, S Moynihan (0-1), A O’Mahony (0-2); D O Se, T Griffin; S O’Sullivan (0-1), Declan O’Sullivan (1-2), P Galvin (0-1); C Cooper (1-2), K Donaghy (1-2), MF Russell (0-2, 1f).
Subs used: E Brosnan (1-1) for T O Se (HT); Darren O’Sullivan for S O’Sullivan (52); B Sheehan (0-1, 1f) for Russell (62); E Fitzmaurice for T Griffin (68); B Guiney for A O’Mahony (69).
D Clarke; D Geraghty, D Heaney, K Higgins; A Higgins, J Nallen, P Gardiner; R McGarrity, P Harte (1-0); B Padden (0-1), G Brady, A Dillon; K O’Neill (2-0), C Mortimer (0-3, 3fs), C McDonald (0-1, 1f).
Subs used: D Brady for Nallen (11); T Mortimer for Dillon (47); B Moran for O’Neill (47); A Kilcoyne for Padden (52); A Moran for Gardiner (inj, 60).
Referee: B Crowe (Cavan)