O'Malley fires Mayo passions
Mayo 0-16 Kerry 1-12
YOU would want to be a very cold fish indeed not to warm to the unquenchable passion of Mayo football fans for the game that has dealt them so much heartache.
"Three in a row!" shouted the home crowd as they left Castlebar celebrating after Austin O'Malley fired over the dramatic winner of this Division 1 cliffhanger a full two-and-a-half minutes into injury-time.
Mayo were, of course, referring to the National League, where they had scored a third consecutive win over Kerry.
One could have pointed out that it was only March, that their September history against the Kingdom should keep things in perspective, and that the All-Ireland champions had only 10 of their winning starters, and only three of them up front.
But Mayo's delight was understandable as their first victory of the season kept the spectre of relegation at bay.
To do it after conceding a penalty to the All-Ireland champions just 25 seconds after the throw-in was particularly heartening for John O'Mahony's side, but selector Kieran Gallagher was keen to keep things in perspective.
"Against Donegal we lost in the last minute and we ground out a result against Laois but we've been team building all along, which is more important than our position on the table," he stressed.
"The lads worked hard for one another right across the pitch and it was nice to see what we're doing in training sessions coming out onto the pitch today."
Their workrate looked like it would yield a deserved share of the spoils when Conor Mortimer curled over a fine free to level the game for a sixth time with five minutes left.
The match had started dramatically when a foot-block on Darren O'Sullivan after just 20 seconds had yielded a penalty which Bryan Sheehan coolly dispatched with just 55 seconds on the clock.
But the finale was even more theatrical.
Moving into the three minutes of added time, with the sides level, much to Mayo's disgust, referee Michael Hughes gave Kerry a free no one could see Sheehan missing.
He had already slotted 1-5 from placed balls, the only shot he had missed was an early line-ball, Kerry's only wide.
Yet miss Sheehan did, and suddenly Mayo sensed a kill.
Conor Mortimer wasted a chance into the keeper's hands before O'Malley's magnificent winner off the left wing and, before the final whistle, Kerry had another outside chance but Kieran Donaghy kicked it wide.
It was a great finale to a thrilling league encounter and there was no doubt that it hurt the visitors. Sheehan described it as "a sickener because we had enough chances to win it", and Kerry manager Pat O'Shea also looked downcast.
"We conceded 16 points and a share of the breaking ball but we turned over a lot of ball needlessly too, with poor decisions and poor passes, especially in the last five or six minutes. You can't just keep doing that," O'Shea said.
His side went three points clear thrice in the first half and led 1-9 to 0-9 at half-time. Darren O'Sullivan threatened to cut loose a few times and had scored 0-3 by the break but the switch of Keith Higgins to mark him stemmed that tide.
With Trevor Mortimer operating as a sweeper and Peadar Gardiner also dropping deep, Mayo clung on tigerishly and dominated a lot of the breaking ball in midfield.
That deprived Kerry of decent ball to Donaghy, on whom relative rookie Kieran Conroy (a pre-match replacement for Billy Joe Padden) did very well, and it was no surprise to see Kerry springing Darragh O Se 10 minutes into the second half for his first game since the All-Ireland final.
But Mayo drove on, scoring four points without reply in a 16-minute spell from the re-start to take their first lead.
With his second point, All Star wing-back Tomas O Se led Kerry by example, as he had all day, and the lead swung to and fro until the frantic finale.
Mayo's two-man full-forward line of Conor Mortimer and O'Malley did well with limited ball but Kerry weren't helped by having three defenders (Reidy, O'Sullivan and Tomas O Se) booked by half-time.
And even though Michael Quirke, Seamus Scanlan and Eoin Brosnan battled hard in the crowded midfield and Darragh O Se's introduction added impetus, they didn't have enough of a scoring threat from half-forward, while Mayo's great defensive work-rate crowded them out.
Scorers -- Mayo: C Mortimer 0-7 (5f), A O'Malley 0-5 (1f), A Dillon 0-2 (2f), J Gill and A Moran 0-1 each. Kerry: B Sheehan 1-5 (5f, 1 pen), D O'Sullivan 0-3 (1f), T O Se 0-2, E Brosnan and K Donaghy 0-1 each.
Mayo -- D Clarke; T Cunniffe, K Conroy, L O'Malley; D Heaney, T Howley, K Higgins; J Gill, R McGarrity; P Gardiner, A Dillon, T Mortimer; C Mortimer, A O'Malley, A Moran. Subs: C Boyle for L O'Malley (41), T Parsons for Gill (53), P Harte for Dillon (67).
Kerry -- D Murphy; P Reidy, T O'Sullivan, M O Se; T O Se, T Griffin, A O'Mahony; M Quirke, S Scanlon; D Walsh, E Brosnan, A Maher; Darren O'Sullivan, K Donaghy, B Sheehan. Subs: D O Se for Walsh (46), D Bohane for Maher (65), K O'Leary for Brosnan (70).
Ref -- M Hughes (Tyrone).