OF course it was a greatly under strength Kerry team that lined out against Mayo in Castlebar last Sunday and excuses can and will be made in relation to this.
And it goes without saying that no matter how promising a young Kerry footballer appears to be it is an impossibility to replace the long serving stars who were absent for one reason or another as Mayo strolled to comprehensive victory.
And yes, there was a very strong wind which Kerry played against in the second half and unbelievably failed to raise even one flag during this abysmal thirty five minutes. More about this later.
Indeed Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice made no excuses whatsoever and told it exactly as it was.
"We didn't play well," said the Finuge man.
"We didn't perform. Simple as that".
That was it in a nutshell. However, being present at the game it was even worse than that in many aspects. All the talk after the game was Kerry's failure to score against the wind and the fact that they were missing so many players.
Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that Mayo were missing six of their side that started on the first fifteen in last year's All Ireland final defeat by Donegal, so that cancels that out. Also in relation to that aforementioned wind Mayo actually scored more, while playing against the elements than with it. They played great football in that first half and scored nine points. So that, pardon the pun, knocks the wind out of that particular argument.
The winners were highly organised, disciplined and their work rate all over the field was much higher than Kerry's. Time after time they surrounded the Kerry player in possession and out muscled their opponents for many fifty fifty balls. The smaller, lighter Kerry forwards were generally playing second fiddle and the longer the game went on the more obvious this became. And in fact so poor was the Kerry attack in that second half they succeeded in kicking just two wides in that thirty five minutes.
The Mayo defence was excellent, Ger Cafferky, Colm Boyle and Chris Barrett were all to the fore and their disclipine in tackling was also hugely impressive, conceding just one close in free, and another startling statistic is the fact that Kerry failed to score from even one free during the course of the game. Johnny Buckley one of the few Kerry players to impress did point from a forty five in the opening half.
On the other hand the losers' indiscipline in defence will be a worry for the side line men as they conceded seven points from placed balls and the winners inside forwards Jason Doherty, Michael Conroy and Kevin McLaughlin were very fast, lively and generally first to the ball as the Kerry defenders on many occasions were playing their man from behind, a recipe for conceding possession.
James Horan has done a superb job with his side and following last year's march to both the National League and All Ireland finals he has instilled huge belief, a massive work rate and a good bit of steel into his men. Not afraid to experiment it was most unusual to see two of their normal wing-backs Richie Feeney and Lee Keegan lining out in the half-forward line. With three of their regular forwards unavailable last Sunday make no mistake about it but Mayo will be a big force again in the championship. They continue to improve.
The Kerry management on the other hand have plenty to ponder about as Dublin are the visitors next Sunday and taking their display against Cork into consideration and Kerry's inept display their can be only one winner in Fitzgerald Stadium. We continuously hear the cry "give youth its fling" and Eamonn Fitzmaurice to his credit has certainly done that even if his hands are tied due to other commitments by those players unavailable to him.
The Kerry display was completely disjointed and those four matches in the McGrath Cup have proved in retrospect to be a very false dawn and, of course, the opposition in those wins was extremely poor.
New comers Johnny Buckley and Jonathan Lyne showed up well and Michael O'Donoghue in the first half was very industrious and kicked two lovely points. James O'Donoghue, Killian Young and Marc Ó Sé were also three of the better Kerry players. Brendan Kealy's handling of the ball, both high and low was first class. Anthony Maher until the time of his dismissal was excellent and fielded some great ball.
Indiscipline – i.e. questioning the referee's decisions (which he will never change – was also noticeable in some Kerry players. It's early days and Kerry will definitely improve as the absentees return. Eoin Brosnan, Kieran Donaghy, Declan O'Sullivan, Paul Galvin and Colm Cooper have nothing to prove, while Bryan Sheehan will get much fitter.
Now the trick for the Kerry selectors is to combine the new comers with these long serving warriors, this is the secret. The championship is the objective. Injuries or loss of form due to staleness / tiredness must be avoided if a long championship run is envisaged.
Fogra: The last time Kerry failed to score in the second half of a league game was as far back as December 13, 1966. That day Louth beat Kerry in Tralee 0-6 to 0-5 and the home side team was booed off the field at the full-time whistle. Kerry football was going through a very lean period losing Munster finals to Cork in 1966-67.
Previous to that in May 1963 Kerry beat Down in the Home National League final, 0-9 to 1-5, but failed to raise a flag for the entire second half. They went on to beat New York in the final in Croke Park, 1-18 to 1-10. Niall Sheehy was the winning captain.
Three Kerry men starred for New York that day, the Foley brothers, Mick and Jim, from Keel, and Mickey Moynihan from Rathmore. Mick O'Dwyer was Kerry's top scorer in that league campaign of 1962/63 with a total of 0-28. Johnny Culloty played in goal in the home final and Seamus Fitzgerald was in goal for the New York game.