Oxygen of goals breathes life into Kingdom
Kerry 2-13 Mayo 0-14
Published 14/03/2016 | 02:30
The rancour of Tralee may have diluted some of the satisfaction Kerry should have gleaned from winning such an important game but, seven days on, the value of a first league win over Mayo in five years can be fully deposited.
This was businesslike and economic from the visitors in MacHale Park as they recorded a third successive league win to take them into upper half of Division 1.
They made the most of goals either side of half-time and once again underlined, just as they did against Donegal, that when they get ahead they can be very difficult to break down.
It lacked the edge of other meetings between these counties and indeed games between the 'big four'. But the card count still reached 10 with red cards (double yellows) for Kerry's Kieran Donaghy and Mayo's Diarmuid O'Connor in the 53rd and 70th minutes and black for Peter Crowley in between.
But Kerry never looked like a team numerically disadvantaged in that closing period as they absorbed everything Mayo threw at them and hit them impressively on the break to protect the lead, 2-7 to 0-9, that their second goal from Donnchadh Walsh had given them in the 46th minute.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice hasn't had great memories of visits to Castlebar as a manager but the overall work-rate, impact off the bench and progressive form of Darran O'Sullivan and Colm Cooper, starting his first league game since 2013, ticked a lot of boxes here.
O'Sullivan looked particularly sharp and had a direct hand in 1-5, laying on Johnny Buckley's goal before half-time, scoring two points, winning one of Bryan Sheehan's frees and setting up Marc Ó Sé and Buckley for further points.
He had Lee Keegan for company too, Mayo electing to again commit their most penetrating defender to the full-back line.
For Mayo the threat of relegation is very real now with games against Roscommon and Down to come. They've been close to winning three of the four games they've lost but scores are not coming easy and a wide count of 13 tells its own story. Five more shots dropped short.
They had this game locked down at one stage. The sight of Cooper being blocked down twice in the opening half, three times in all, reflected the quality of the home side's defence.
Ger Cafferkey can feel satisfied with that yet Cooper was still able to exert a huge influence, with the direction of his passes so often throwing Mayo defenders off the scent.
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford felt his side had played well enough to lead by more than just one point, 0-7 to 1-3, at the break having played with the wind.
"We had enough possession to win the game but between two sloppy goals. . . the second goal we would be very disappointed with. . ." he said.
"Our conversion in front of goal was not sharp enough. You come out on the back of a five-point loss and you have kicked nine wides more than the opposition, you can't be looking at anything else.
"For 35 minutes we were dictating a lot of it but simple mistakes, individual mistakes, came back to bite us."
After falling two points behind early on Mayo came strong, with Seamus O'Shea particularly busy and brother Aidan complementing that effort with his power.
Kevin McLoughlin also made a decent impact through this period but in the absence of Cillian O'Connor, free-taking remains a problem. Rob Hennelly stepped up to convert a long-range free and a '45' but he missed three more (albeit from distance), while McLoughlin was also off the mark.
On top of that Diarmuid O'Connor also had his quietest game of the campaign despite one spectacular first-half point.
Given how well they defended, the first goal against the run of play will be a disappointment, O'Sullivan spinning away to send Buckley through a gap and the finish was crisp to reduce a four-point lead just before the break.
Kerry dropped Paul Murphy back and used Aidan O'Mahony as a sweeper to good effect, while Peter Crowley got forward to score two points.
Fitzmaurice felt his team were inaccurate with their first-half possession but improved that aspect after the break. In successive second halves now they have recorded just one wide.
The second Kerry goal gave them a real platform as Walsh popped up to bat home after Hennelly, whose first-half kick-outs were really smart, had advanced without success to claim Cooper's free above Donaghy.
The contributions off the bench will also have pleased Kerry, particularly Brendan O'Sullivan, who took advantage of tiring legs in the Mayo defence to pick off two late points.
Donaghy had been working hard at midfield when he picked up a second yellow - Fitzmaurice felt the first yellow was harsh - but in his absence Sheehan really stepped up.
"We're very much a work in progress. We're far from the finished article but when you're winning games it's a good position to be building on," said Fitzmaurice, who had lost all three previous league games to Mayo.
O'Sullivan's form pleased him. "He's playing great stuff. Other years, at this time of the year especially he had injury issues, he hasn't been able to get a clean run at it but he worked very hard during the winter this year. Any issues that were there have cleared up."
Scorers - Kerry: J Buckley 1-1, D Walsh 1-0, C Cooper (2fs), B Sheehan (2fs), B O'Sullivan, D O'Sullivan, P Crowley all 0-2 each, BJ Keane, M O Se 0-1 each. Mayo: K McLoughlin 0-3 (1f), J Doherty, A O'Shea, A Moran (2fs), R Hennelly (1f, 1 45) all 0-2 each, T Parsons, D O'Connor, S Nally 0-1 each.
Kerry - B Kealy 7; M O Se 8, M Griffin 7, S Enright; 6 P Crowley, 7, A O'Mahony 7, F Fitzgerald 6; K Donaghy 7, B Sheehan 7; D Walsh 7, P Murphy 6, J Buckley 7; D O'Sullivan 8, C Cooper 7, S O'Brien 5. Subs: B Kelly for Kealy blood (30-35), BJ Keane 6 for O'Brien (53), B O'Sullivan 8 for Buckley (55), P O'Connor for Crowley BC (62), J Lyne for Walsh (65), D Daly for D O'Sullivan (73).
Mayo - R Hennelly 7; B Harrison 7, G Cafferkey, 7 L Keegan 6; S Nally 6, C Boyle 6, D Vaughan 7; T Parsons 7, S O'Shea 7; D O'Connor 6, A O'Shea 7, C Carolan 5; K McLoughlin 8, J Doherty 7, C O'Shea 6. Subs: S Coen 6 for Nally (46), A Moran 6 for Carolan (50), M Sweeney for C O'Shea (59), C Barrett for Cafferkey (64), J Gibbons for Doherty (67).
Ref - R Hickey (Clare)