Mayo thumping a wake-up call, admits Fitzmaurice
Mayo 0-15 Kerry 1-6
Here's a snapshot that summed up Kerry's day.
Sixty-one minutes in, Aidan O'Mahony had possession out near the stand with Kerry trailing by three points, facing into a significant wind and a man down after Anthony Maher's dismissal 12 minutes earlier for a second yellow card. It was a perilous time.
With fatigue kicking in fast, O'Mahony's feeble handpass was cut out easily by Lee Keegan 50 metres from his own goal.
The experienced Kerry defender could scarcely raise a gallop to give chase. He looked dispirited. Within seconds, Mayo had engineered a free from close range which Kevin McLoughlin duly converted for a 0-13 to 1-6 lead.
There were so many more moments like that for Kerry to reflect on, but that particular one seemed to sum up this game for them better than any other – even more than Bryan Sheehan's botched free near the end that barely got off the ground.
This was truly a shocking Kerry performance. They set the highest standards for themselves and everyone else and sometimes that's hard to live up to. But in MacHale Park, against a Mayo side that was gritty and busy but hardly setting the world alight either, Kerry came nowhere near those standards.
For the last 43 minutes they failed to score. What's more, they only created a couple of chances. In mitigation they were missing half a team that would fill places on any best 15 of the last decade.
But that begs another question. Beyond the era of Colm Cooper, Kieran Donaghy, Declan O'Sullivan, Tomas O Se and Paul Galvin, was this a vision of the cliff that some observers feel Kerry are heading towards when these great players put their swords back into their scabbards for good?
Is the old certainty that Kerry will always produce players such a given any more?
One weekend in and already this Division 1 campaign looks a challenging one for them. You have to go back to the 2001 All-Ireland semi-final against Meath when they lost by 15 points to recall such an impotent second half for a Kerry team.
It was the third consecutive league game where they fell to Mayo, including last year's league semi-final that went to extra time.
With customary calmness, Eamonn Fitzmaurice didn't try to dress up the flimsiness of the performance.
If there is a small consolation for the new manager it is that his predecessor Jack O'Connor also lost his first match, to Longford in 2004. Jack's Kerry team subsequently went on to win a league and championship double.
The landscape now, however, looks a lot different than it was back then.
"A disappointing day out, we didn't play well, we didn't perform, simple as that," acknowledged Fitzmaurice.
"We're not going to be hiding or looking for excuses. (It was a) poor performance, (we're) disappointed..."
But faith in many of the same players won't be eroded by one abject afternoon, he promised.
"We think they can (survive) in Division 1. Some of the younger players coming through, we have a lot of time for them.
"Part of developing as a player is having experiences like today and realising what it takes at this level.
"It's going to be a wake-up call for some of the lads, but in terms of their long-term development it's part of the thing, this can happen.
"You would hope in the long run it would aid their development. We're down players at the moment but it's not an excuse."
Dublin's trip to Killarney next weekend is now a game that takes on even more significance. Play like this again and the defeat could be more than the six-point margin suffered here.
The wind was a significant factor here and, playing against it, Mayo effectively nailed this game in the opening half.
Jason Doherty's frees, allied to Michael Conroy's accuracy and Richie Feeney's ball-carrying from deep positions, put them on the front foot.
Aidan O'Shea dominated midfield, his workrate incorporating a steal off Mike O'Donoghue that resulted in Conroy's second point on 26 minutes as they levelled, 1-4 to 0-7. Physically he was lord and master in there.
Behind him, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins and Colm Boyle all showed the benefit that last season was to them with an assured collective defensive display.
Conor Cox's 31st-minute point was Kerry's last of the match, the 1-6 to 0-7 lead it gave them was all too brief as Doherty, from a free, and Kevin McLoughlin, off his right foot, brought Mayo back level at the break, 1-6 to 0-9.
Their scoring-rate dipped badly with the wind in the second half but they didn't have to do much to win, especially after Maher's 49th-minute red card for a second yellow which he picked up with O'Shea after a fractious altercation involving several players.
Mayo manager James Horan said he had been confident beforehand.
"I had a strong feeling we would do well today but you never really know until you play," he said.
"We had a good meeting yesterday and went through a few things. That was talking about it – you have to go and do it, but we did today so I'd be happy with that sort of thing."
With Alan Dillon, Cillian O'Connor and Donal Vaughan among others to come back in, a good league campaign beckons.
Fitzmaurice will have no such feeling. With an All-Ireland club final on Saturday night, he has a lot on this week. The young players he has expressed faith in owe him a performance next weekend.
Man of the Match: A O'Shea (Mayo)
Scorers – Mayo: J Doherty 0-6 (5f), M Conroy, K McLoughlin 0-3 each, E Varley 0-2, R Feeney 0-1. Kerry: J O'Donoghue 1-0, M O'Donoghue 0-2, A Maher, C Cox, D O'Sullivan, J Buckley (f) 0-1 each.
Mayo – D Clarke 7; G Cafferkey 8, S McHale 7, K Higgins 8; C Barrett 7, T Cunniffe 6, C Boyle 8; A O'Shea 8, S O'Shea 6; C Freeman 6, R Feeney 8, L Keegan 7; K McLoughlin 7, J Doherty 8, M Conroy 8. Subs: B Moran for S O'Shea (61), J Gibbons for O'Shea (blood 63-65), E Varley for Feeney (66).
Kerry – B Kealy 7; M O Se 6, A O'Mahony 5, S Enright 5; J Lyne 6, P Crowley 5, K Young 6; A Maher 6, J Buckley 7; M Geaney 5, D O'Sullivan 7, M O'Donoghue 6; J O'Donoghue 6, P Curtin 5, C Cox 5. Subs: BJ Keane 5 for Cox (42), B Sheehan 5 for M Geaney (42), A Garnett for Curtin (62), S O'Carroll for O'Donoghue (64).
Ref – P Hughes (Armagh)
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