Spillane and Tomas O'Se lead minor charge for Kerry
Kerry 1-14 Mayo 2-7 (All-Ireland MFC Semi-Final)
THERE was double delight of sorts for Kerry yesterday when their seniors lived to fight another day and their minors got back to an All-Ireland final for the first time in eight years.
Underage success has never been a prerequisite for senior glory for the aristocrats of the game, but not winning a minor title for 20 years has raised questions about the talent seams in the Reeks and Mount Brandon these days.
By beating the defending All-Ireland champions and bridging the long gap to their last final, their latest batch of youngsters confirmed that the county's great football tradition just keeps on giving.
With former senior manager Jack O'Connor at the helm, and a handful of the Dingle schools' team that Eamonn Fitzmaurice managed to Hogan Cup glory this year, they took a long time to settle and benefited from their opponents' bad luck.
They didn't score until the 19th minute and Mayo led on a paltry 0-4 to 0-3 scoreline at half-time but their full-forward line had already threatened to cut loose only to be foiled repeatedly by Mayo's brilliant full-back line.
Kerry had names to conjure with upfront, like Tomas O Se of An Ghaeltacht (no relation to the great man actually but a fleet-footed world champion at Irish dancing) and Killian Spillane, son of Tom and the latest of the Templenoe dynasty.
Eoin O'Donoghue was given the job of man-marking O Se and did a superb job up to half-time.
But the key moment of the first half was when Mayo captain Cian Hanley (brother of AFL star Pearse) went up to collect a ball after 11 minutes and crumpled on landing.
After a lengthy assessment the young full-forward resumed play but twice more would he go down before being taken off in the 24th minute. Many watched horrified at his struggle and wondered why the Mayo management did not withdraw him earlier.
Manager Enda Gilvarry said afterwards that "the medical advice was that there wasn't any significant damage done and that it could be something he could run off."
It was a heartbreaking end to the day for the Ballaghaderreen lad who also missed last year's final victory through injury, and his loss seemed a huge psychological blow to his team.
Without him, Gary Boylan was their main man up front and provided some magnificent scores and leadership throughout. But Kerry, who had missed 1-4 in the opening quarter, managed to find their composure at the half-time break and restarted with three quick scores to go two clear by the 36th minute.
"It was just that we snatched at chances in the first half, they're young and they were nervous," O'Connor said. "We settled them down at half-time and we played much more controlled football in the second half.
"I found it very frustrating because I thought we were the better team in both halves and it wasn't being reflected on the scoreboard." .
Kerry finally clicked after Mayo were hit with a second bad blow in the 41st minute when corner-back Conor Kilkenny was black-carded.
Kerry had a bit of luck when a Micheal Burns shot dropped short in the goalmouth but O Se got up to punch it to the net to give them a five-point lead.
Mayo responded magnificently with a brilliant individual goal from TJ Byrne and a great point by Brian Reape immediately cut the gap to just one again.
But Kerry pushed three points clear and O Se won a 48th-minute penalty only for Matthew Flanagan to save Kiely's effort to place it.
Boylan immediately responded by producing a phenomenal point from a difficult angle to put just two points between them again but it was then that Kerry looked most impressive, refusing to buckle and pushing on with five unanswered points.
Substitute Liam Carey, who provided 0-3 from play and several vital assists, was influential and only a late punched, second goal by Byrne spared Mayo's blushes.
Midfielder Barry O'Sullivan was a serious contender for man of the match for his understated, controlling influence throughout, full-forward Spillane top-scored on 0-6, and wing-forwards Matthew Flaherty and Burns (already playing senior for Dr Crokes) were also very lively.
Mayo broke a long duck themselves last year with their first minor title in 28 years and AFL target Sharoize Akram and Barry Duffy also caught the eye but manager Gilvarry admitted that they were always second best yesterday.
"They controlled the ball around the middle of the field and any team that does that is going to hurt you," he said.
"We were hanging on and hanging on and living off scraps. We weren't able to put any kind of consistent pressure on Kerry that would have tested them."
Scorers - Kerry: K Spillane 0-6 (3fs), T O Se 1-1, L Carey 0-3, M O'Connor, M Flaherty and M Burns 0-1, S Ryan 0-1 (f). Mayo: TJ Byrne 2-0, G Boylan 0-4 (3f), F Duffy and B Reape 0-1, C Hanley 0-1 (f).
Kerry - S Ryan; D O'Donoghue (capt), B O Beaglaoich, T O'Sullivan; B Sugrue, A Barry, C Coffey; B O'Sullivan, M O'Connor; M Flaherty, B Rayle, M Burns; J Kiely, K Spillane, T O Se. Subs: L Carey for Rayle (half-time), L Kearney for Flaherty (46), R Wharton for Sugrue (53), S O'Sullivan for Kiely (56), I Parker for Spillane (61), S Ryan for Burns (61).
Mayo - M Flanagan; E O'Donoghue, S Cunniffe, C Kilkenny; J Forkan, B Duffy, S Conlon; G Walsh, M Ruane; G Boylan, TJ Byrne, S Akram; F Duffy, C Hanley (capt), B Reape. Subs: L Byrne for Hanley (inj, 24), S Brennan for Kilkenny (black card, 41), D Clarke for Forkan (47), K Hopkins for Ruane (50), J Reilly for Duffy (58), D Cannon for Conlon (61).
Ref - S Hurson (Tyrone)