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Mayo redress the balance

IT'S not hard to see why Mayo fans are so frequently diagnosed as suffering from an inflated sense of optimism. It's the team's fault.

Yesterday, they gave their loyal and long-suffering following another early season reason to be hopeful by qualifying for a league final.

Of potentially greater significance is the opposition they vanquished as the men from the west beat Kerry in Croke Park by 2-15 to 1-17 after extra-time, thanks to two separate comebacks and, it must be said, a creaky Kingdom resolve to see out a win.

Jack O'Connor's men were four points up with seven minutes of normal time to play (sound familiar?) but a dire cross-field pass from Kieran Donaghy found only Alan Dillon, who ambled into the Kerry area and fell neatly under the strain of Paul Galvin's shove from behind.

Pat Harte buried the resultant penalty and even then Mayo were steeped to force a turnover from Darran O'Sullivan, who then fouled Cillian O'Connor - and the 2011 Young Footballer of the Year made no mistake with the free to force extra-time.

"We felt we needed to close out the game," observed Jack O'Connor. "We messed around a bit at the back. Déjà vu, I suppose, and they came back and equalised. He (Donaghy) was trying to do the right thing, I suppose.

"He miscued it a bit. It was like a slice in golf, he didn't mean it to go like that. It was one of those things."

But even within the confines of extra-time, Kerry were the more polished and effective. Bryan Sheehan's free-taking had been typically excellent all day, and two from him and a brace from substitute Barry John Keane seemed set to send the Kingdom into a league final in a fortnight's time.

Enter Colm Boyle.

The Davitt's wing-back had already been a strong contender for the Man of the Match award after a string of defensive contributions but he made completely certain when he miraculously held onto possession amid the attentions of three Kerry defenders and then, somehow, squeezed a shot past Brendan Kealy to draw level with five minutes to go.

"We kept at it and tried to stick to our gameplan and if stuff didn't work we tried to change it," James Horan reflected. "We eventually got there."

And just as the 90 minutes were up, Richie Feeney sauntered past a couple of tired Kerry challenges and fired Mayo to a fairly famous win and a league decider with Cork in two weeks' time.

Admittedly, Mayo have been stuffed so many times by Kerry at Croke Park it's almost too clichéd to keep recalling. Except every renewal of familiarities in that particular venue has added more layers to one of the most lopsided rivalries in Gaelic football.

Predictably then, Horan was keen to dampen talk of demons being exorcised in April.

"It is just doing the simple things and sticking to our gameplan and that is what we did," he insisted.

"It didn't matter whether it was Kerry or whoever we were playing here. That is what we were trying to do and it worked.

"That's football, I suppose. After our Donegal performance, some people did maybe jump off the deep end a little bit.

"After our performances against Cork and Dublin, I knew we were on the right track. Even though we lost against Cork, the performance was pretty good."

That Mayo started so well meant the game always looked destined to be tight.

Conor Mortimer began in a blaze of glory, kicking five of his six points in the first half and Mayo collected six of the opening seven of the match before Kerry's Galvin, Sheehan and Anthony Maher established and maintained an almost total dominance of the middle third for the vast majority of the match.

Boyle, Ger Cafferkey - who did a sterling job on an out-of-sorts Colm Cooper - and Keith Higgins were Mayo's saviours at the back and a 0-9 to 0-7 half-time lead was thanks mostly to that trio and a sharp-looking Mortimer.

Kerry eventually worked the gaps and managed to string six points together without reply and the score which looked most likely to seal the game came from sub James O'Donoghue after Galvin's pass missed Donaghy and the Legion man slid bravely in to beat David Clarke and hit the game's opening goal.

But Kerry's late jitters undid them and Mayo capitalised - a welcome break from the usual one-sided tango on these type of occasions.

"We wore our way into the game and we finished strong in the second half, only for giving away the goal there near the end, we would have closed the game out," insisted Jack O'Connor.

"But overall it's no calamity. It will be forgotten about in a week's time."

Except, perhaps, in Mayo.