KERRY will no doubt be happy about yesterday’s All-Ireland semi-final win, and not just for the obvious reason that they can now look forward to another day out in September.
This game was exactly what Kerry needed. The familiarity with Cork was perhaps making the team stale and they had a very handy run out in the quarter-final against Limerick.
Against Mayo, though, they came up against a very well organised outfit, who tackled with ferocious physicality, had a huge appetite for battle and put their bodies on the line for 70 minutes. Jack O’Connor will be satisfied with how his team stood strong and fronted up to the challenge put before them, but he will also have much to ponder.
I genuinely feel that if we were playing Dublin yesterday we would have been beaten. Mayo created five very good goalscoring opportunities and that does not include the one that was brilliantly put away by Cillian O’Connor. PRESSURE But credit must go to Mayo for that and in particular to Andy Moran. It was the first time I have seen Marc Ó Sé under that much pressure on a big day in Croke Park. One could only imagine what the likes of Bernard Brogan or Diarmuid Connolly would have done if presented with the same chances.
It was obvious that Kerry would go for the jugular early on and that if Mayo were to have a chance they needed to withstand the onslaught. They did that, but only just. Darran O’Sullivan made two wonderfully incisive runs through on goal but he was unable to apply the finish. In fact, despite having much the better opportunities in the opening exchanges, Kerry found themselves 0-4 to 0-2 down after 20 minutes and there were doubts creeping in. However, on Friday, this column alluded to the fact that Mayo would need to win the midfield battle if they were to have any chance, and even that they would struggle to get enough scores.
Instead, the O’Shea brothers did not get into the game, they did not get on nearly as much breaking ball as they had done in previous matches. It meant that the superior forward power Kerry possess would eventually tell and they went in leading at half-time despite being quite wasteful. EXPOSED I felt that James Horan got his tactics very wrong in the second half. He needed to keep things tight for as long as possible and try and then go for the win in the final stages.
He went for the finishing line far too early. He abandoned the sweeper system, which had worked very well for them, and it meant that there was too much space for the Kerry forwards to operate. Unfortunately for them, it was ruthlessly exposed. And who better to expose it than Colm Cooper? He was without doubt the man of the match. He came up with scores at all the right times and his goal was a touch of class. He had been having a quiet summer up to now and, even though his all-round play was still good, he did not contribute as much as he would have liked on the scoreboard. It was only a matter of time before he did. Once the game was turned into a straight shootout between the forwards, there was only ever going to be one winner. It was also good to see Paul Galvin making an impact, while Kieran O’Leary was very impressive.
Without patronising Mayo, they can be happy with their year. After needing extra-time to see off London, nobody could have predicted them getting to an All-Ireland semi-final by way of beating reigning champions Cork.
As well as Moran, Ger Cafferky and Donal Vaughan really showed their class. Looking ahead, and many of the Kerry players will also be disappointed with their individual performances. For long periods of the first half, the play was scrappy and the half forward line did not replicate the form it has shown up to now. It is not a bad way to go into an All-Ireland final, however. The players who were not at their best yesterday will be under no illusions about what they need to do for the next day.
They will need to be at their best, and raise their game to the next level, if they are to regain Sam. Anything less will not be good enough.