Kingdom come to top table again
Mayo rue missed chances as Gooch's genius at HQ powers Kerry to seventh final in eight years
JAMES Horan remained on the Croke Park pitch for quite a long time after the final whistle, perhaps reflecting on the reality that Mayo are coming no closer to sorting out the Kerry puzzle.
The Kingdom had beaten them by an average of eight points in their previous three championship clashes and the gap was up to nine yesterday, even though Kerry never appeared as if they were playing to full capacity. They always looked as if they had more in reserve, while Mayo were flat out all the way, with their high-intensity game plan sucking energy from mind and limb.
Mayo had acquired a reputation as a powerful second-half force after conceding the tiny total of four points after half-time against Galway, Roscommon and Cork, so when they trailed by just two points (0-8 to 0-6) at the interval yesterday an air of anticipation hung over their large support base.
Alas, it was built on nothing more substantial than the hope that Kerry would be as accommodating as Mayo's previous opponents -- which really was most unlikely on a day when Colm Cooper rediscovered his best form and let it loose on a Mayo defence which was overloaded to breaking point in the second half.
Kerry hit them for 1-12 in that period, including two unanswered bursts of 0-6 and 0-4 and also featuring a 54th-minute goal which quelled Mayo's final rebellion. That had been launched a minute earlier when Cillian O'Connor squeezed in from a tight angle before driving the ball to the Kerry net to reduce the deficit to five points (0-16 to 1-8).
Could Mayo use that break as a catalyst to drive on and make further inroads on Kerry's advantage? The goal gave Mayo hope but it was quickly deleted by a swift Kerry attack and when the Mayo defence dithered, Cooper pounced to swivel into position before driving the ball to the net.
It re-established Kerry's eight-point lead and left Mayo realising there was little they could do to stave off another big defeat. They battled on bravely, cutting back three points, but Kerry finished with a trademark flourish as Cooper (twice) and subs Seamus Scanlon and Paul Galvin added late points.
Galvin, introduced for Donnacha Walsh in the 43rd minute, made a significant difference, using his scavenging skills to pick up lots of loose possession in the middle third and using it productively, often under a level of pressure which should have yielded more frees than it did.
Galvin was one of nine Kerrymen to score, including half-backs Tomas O Se and Eoin Brosnan and midfielder Bryan Sheehan, who ran an excellent campaign before being replaced late on.
Mayo had five scorers but only three of the starting forwards were among them, while neither of their midfielders -- the O'Shea brothers -- hit the target. Surprisingly, Mayo's highest scorer from open play was centre-back Donal Vaughan, whose well-timed runs created the openings which he exploited expertly as he helped himself to three points.
Mayo struggled at midfield for long stretches but took no corrective action until the 47th minute when Ronan McGarrity replaced Seamus O'Shea. It made no real difference, however, leaving Mayo with a handicap which no team can afford to carry at any level, let alone an All-Ireland semi-final.
Still, as they returned home after yet another bad Croke Park experience, they will have been reflecting on what might have happened if they had made better use of their goal chances.
Brendan Kealy made excellent saves from Andy Moran in the 14th and 53rd minutes while Mayo's best forward also hit the post in the 65th minute. Two minutes earlier, a powerful solo run by Aidan O'Shea took him in on the Kerry goal but his shot was brilliantly charged down by Brosnan.
The fact that Mayo found so many goal openings will be of concern to Kerry but then they created several similar opportunities themselves, converting only one. Indeed, they might have had two early goals in the first half but Mayo goalkeeper Robert Hennelly twice denied them, deflecting a Darran O'Sullivan drive out for a '45' after 25 seconds and making another fine save from the same attacker in the eighth minute.
Those narrow escapes seemed to inspire Mayo who enjoyed their best period over the next 15 minutes, opening up a two-point lead. It should have been more but their finishing was poor with a few shots dropping into the arms of the Kerry 'keeper.
Mayo's 0-5 to 0-3 lead after 25 minutes was hugely encouraging for the Connacht champions but, inevitably, Kerry's response was swift and decisive. They scored five unanswered points and with Cooper and Kieran Donaghy -- both of whom had started slowly -- gradually powering up through the gears, it began to look ominous for Mayo.
They would have been hoping for another second-half bounce but Kerry, conscious no doubt of how Mayo had played so well after the break in their last three games, worked hard to retain the initiative. Many of the individual battles began to go their way and as Mayo's error rate increased, the westerners managed just two points in the first 17 minutes of the second half.
O'Connor's goal ended the largely barren spell but it provided Mayo with no more than a tiny glimmer of hope which was quickly extinguished by Cooper's strike. Ultimately, Mayo came up short because they had fewer match-turners than Kerry.
Horan's tactic of playing wing-forward Kevin McLoughlin as an auxiliary defender yielded some dividends but, on the downside, it robbed Mayo of a dynamic runner up front.
Moran did well again but the support was patchy. Horan withdrew Enda Varley and Alan Freeman in the second half but it made no real difference against a Kerry defence where Tom O'Sullivan did especially well.
So Kerry are back in their seventh All-Ireland final in eight seasons after putting 1-20 on opponents who had a reputation for defensive solidity.
It could so easily have been higher on an afternoon when the Gooch's special genius at Croke Park in autumn will have gladdened the hearts of the Kerry faithful. It will also have been noted by Dublin and Donegal.
Scorers -- Kerry: C Cooper 1-7 (0-4f), B Sheehan 0-3 (3f), K Donaghy, K O'Leary, P Galvin 0-2 each, T O Se, Darran O'Sullivan, E Brosnan, S Scanlon 0-1 each. Mayo: C O'Connor 1-3 (0-3f), D Vaughan 0-3, E Varley (1f), A Moran 0-2 each, L Keegan 0-1.
Kerry -- B Kealy 8; K Young 7, M O Se 7, T O'Sullivan 8; T O Se 8, E Brosnan 7, A O'Mahony 7; A Maher 7, B Sheehan 8; Darran O'Sullivan 7, Declan O'Sullivan 6, D Walsh 6; C Cooper 9, K Donaghy 7, K O'Leary 7. Subs: P Galvin 8 for Walsh (43), J O'Donoghue 6 for Darran O'Sullivan (62), D Bohan for T O Se (65), S Scanlon for Sheehan (68), BJ Keane for Declan O'Sullivan (71).
Mayo -- R Hennelly 7; R Feeney 5, G Cafferkey 7, T Cunniffe 6; T Mortimer 6, D Vaughan 8, K Higgins 6; 7 A O'Shea 6, S O'Shea 5; K McLoughlin 6, A Dillon 6, A Moran 8; E Varley 6, A Freeman 5 , C O'Connor 7. Subs: R McGarrity 6 for S O'Shea (47), L Keegan 6 for Feeney (47), A Campbell 5 for Freeman (54), J Doherty 5 for Varley (58).
Ref -- D Coldrick (Meath)