Mayo fume as penalty turns tide for Kerry
Allianz Football League Div 1
Another Sunday afternoon, another big refereeing call effectively deciding the outcome of a game.
Maybe some TV angle will help to justify Maurice Deegan's contention that Kerry were worth a penalty when Darran O'Sullivan collided with Mayo goalkeeper Robert Hennelly in the square with six minutes remaining of this competitive clash in Castlebar.
But in real time -- admittedly the only time the Laois official has to make such decisions -- it looked a very harsh decision to those with a more lateral view of the incident.
O'Sullivan, once again a livewire in the freedom of his new centre-forward role, popped through a gap and on to Donnacha Walsh's pass but spilled possession and was watching the ball fly out over the end line when Hennelly stepped in.
The contact was enough to floor O'Sullivan but did the balance of responsibility for the collision lie entirely with the young Mayo goalkeeper to merit a penalty?
Mayo manager James Horan felt the Kerry player had "barged" Hennelly and Deegan should have awarded a free out; his opposite number Jack O'Connor didn't have much option with his choice of words.
Decisions go for you and go against you was the gist of his take on it. And so they do.
Whatever the justification of it, Bryan Sheehan, only on the field a few minutes, crashed home the penalty impressively and suddenly a grinding, attritional game had its breaking moment.
From 0-8 to 0-7 down, Kerry were two points clear and had wind in their sails, recovering to win a game they looked more likely to lose midway through the second half despite their wind advantage.
Mayo, who had struggled to initiate scoring movements all day with the superior amount of possession they had, were deflated and couldn't lift it for the final nine minutes played.
They had played purposefully up to that point but their inability to deal with the crisis of a penalty that probably shouldn't have been was tangible.
In the remaining time Kerry nailed the job down with points from Sheehan, after a storming run, and fellow replacement Kieran O'Leary.
The two league points were precious, particularly after Kerry's first-round home defeat to Cork and Mayo's home draw with Down. So in that context, allied to blustery wind and rain and a pitch surface that was more like treacle because of the sanding (clearly Down's Martin Clarke had a justifiable point with his criticism), it developed into a battle.
The nature of it was reflected in the free count -- 35 against Mayo, 23 against Kerry -- well above average for a second-round league match when the emphasis is generally more on creation than protection.
Perhaps Kerry would have been able to conjure something in the final minutes to pinch it without the aid of Deegan's generosity.
There were times when they moved the ball fluently and the aerial threat Kieran Donaghy provides was once again the chosen route for so many of their more productive moves.
He didn't get his hands to everything -- Alan Feeney was more than capable of holding his own against him -- but there is always spin-off around Donaghy and once again David Geaney had the armchair ride to push his claims a little further.
Colm Cooper was back for the first time since the All-Ireland quarter-final against Down but had a quiet afternoon by his standards as an impressive Mayo defence stood firm.
Further back, the return of Eoin Brosnan was well scrutinised and from early on it was evident how comfortable he is facing the ball and running on to it. After 20 minutes you were left wondering how the experiment had not been implemented years before this. The transition, on this day at least, was seamless. Behind him, Marc O Se scarcely put a foot wrong.
For Mayo, the Feeney brothers Alan and Richie, late call-ups after the defection of Trevor Howley and Chris Barrett, defended smartly, while Tom Cunniffe, in the shadow of Cooper, was all power and enthusiasm and made a number of telling breaks from his corner.
At wing-back, Kevin McLoughlin mixed the style of a second-half point with the substance of a number of crunching tackles that managed to turn the direction of play each time.
Against the wind, Kerry made early progress to open a three-point gap without reply and that might have increased but for a smart save by Hennelly from Geaney.
But as Mayo increased their foothold through Ronan McGarrity and Jason Gibbons at midfield, they got back into it. By the 26th minute, they were level, 0-3 each, but Geaney read the break well from a Donaghy knock-down and Kerry were soon ahead again.
The sides were level at half-time, 0-5 each, and that appeared to give Kerry the advantage with the wind at their backs in the second half.
The Mayo defence really stood up to the test, however, and it was significant that Horan should rate this performance as better than their opening show against Down when they scored 1-13 on a very wet night. Twice Aidan Campbell, from a free, and substitute Neil Douglas put Mayo ahead in the third quarter, but the wides, five in each half, just kept pegging them back.
Eventually Kerry got their break through O'Sullivan and Sheehan for a win that will go a long way to preserving their top-flight status for another season.
Man of the match -- Tom Cunniffe (Mayo)
Scorers -- Kerry: B Sheehan (1-0 pen) 1-1, D Geaney 0-4 (2f), D O'Sullivan 0-2, C Cooper (f), K O'Leary 0-1 each. Mayo: A Campbell (2f) 0-2, R McGarrity, A O'Shea, M Ronaldson (f), K McLoughlin, N Douglas, A Moran all 0-1 each.
Kerry -- B Kealy 6; S Enright 6, P Reidy 6, M O Se 8; A O'Mahony 7, E Brosnan 7, J Lyne 7; S Scanlon 7, D Moran 6; G O'Driscoll 5, D O'Sullivan 8, D Walsh 6; C Cooper 6, K Donaghy 7, D Geaney 7. Subs: A Maher 6 for Moran (44), K Young 6 for Reidy (50), D Casey 5 for O'Driscoll (50), B Sheehan 7 for Geaney (59), K O'Leary for O'Sullivan (71).
Mayo -- R Hennelly 7; R Feeney 7, A Feeney 7, T Cunniffe 8; P Gardiner 7, G Cafferkey 6, K McLoughlin 8; J Gibbons 6, R McGarrity 7; A Campbell 6, A Moran 6, A Dillon 6; A O'Shea 5, A Kilcoyne 5, M Ronaldson 5. Subs: N Douglas 6 for Ronaldson (41), T Parsons 5 for Gibbons (58), J Doherty for Douglas (63).
Ref -- M Deegan (Laois).