Super subs help Mayo sink sloppy Kingdom
COULD two similar experiences in the space of seven months be classed as a pattern?
It's a question that will be mulled over in Kerry today as they reflect on another Croke Park mishap which had several of the hallmarks of last year's All-Ireland final defeat.
Kerry squandered a four-point lead on the home run against Dublin last September and repeated it yesterday, allowing Mayo to claw their way back into a league semi-final that seemed to have drifted out of reach when they found themselves trailing by 1-13 to 0-12 after 66 minutes.
Kerry's advantage had peaked at five points at the three-quarter mark and while Mayo stabilised over the next 10 minutes, they still seemed destined for defeat as the game ticked into the final five minutes.
Then, out of nothing, Mayo were handed a lifeline when Kieran Donaghy's attempt at a defensive crossfield pass veered towards his own goal. It was collected by Alan Dillon, who was fouled in the square by Paul Galvin as he tried to burrow through, and sub Pat Harte calmly slotted the resultant penalty. Another sub Cillian O'Connor kicked the levelling point from a free deep in stoppage time to send the game to extra-time.
Kerry, for whom Kieran O'Leary was a pre-match replacement for Declan O'Sullivan, patiently built up another lead -- pulling three points clear in the second period -- but Mayo hung on doggedly and were rewarded with the equalising goal in the 85th minute when wing-back Colm Boyle somehow managed to escape the claws of Kerry defenders before angling the ball to the net.
Another sub, Richie Feeney, put Mayo in front in the 89th minute and while Kerry had a late chance to level it up, Bryan's Sheehan's '45' drifted wide.
Kerry's league race was run while Mayo headed to the airport for a flight to Portugal for a six-day warm-weather training camp. Mayo manager James Horan conceded afterwards that some lucky breaks had gone their way, principally in the case of the Donaghy giveaway, but he will have been well pleased with the tenacity displayed by his squad when it looked as if the tide was flowing powerfully in Kerry's direction late in normal time and for much of extra-time too.
"We kept going for the full 70 minutes of normal time and again in extra-time, which was very encouraging. Every time you come to Croke Park and win, it's a good day," said Horan.
It was Mayo's first win over Kerry in Croke Park since the 1996 All-Ireland semi-final and sets them up for a repeat of the 2010 league final where they lost heavily to Cork. They are a more resilient lot these days, as they showed yesterday and indeed in some of the earlier league games.
However, they have a frustrating dimension, too, as they tend to fade out of games for alarmingly long periods. They led by 0-6 to 0-1 after 14 minutes yesterday, following an enterprising launch period in which Conor Mortimer did considerable damage around the fringes of the Kerry defence, only to be outscored 0-6 to 0-1 over the next 15 minutes.
Mayo finished the half well, adding two points to lead 0-9 to 0-7 at the interval before moving three points ahead early in the second half. However, once again, they retreated into themselves, allowing Kerry to dominate across most sectors, a dominance that yielded an unanswered 1-5 over a 13-minute period. The goal came in the 54th minute when sub James O'Donoghue reacted quickly as the ball broke in front of the Mayo goal.
Leading by 1-12 to 0-10, Kerry looked set for a place in the final, especially when they still held a four-point advantage after 66 minutes, but Donaghy's error re-energised Mayo and, in the end, their persistence was rewarded.
Jack O'Connor absolved Donaghy from blame afterwards, describing his misdirected pass as "one of those things" but he will be deeply frustrated by the manner in which his squad lost another big game from what should have been a winning position.
Inevitably, it will raise questions as to why Kerry have developed a worrying tendency to lose concentration in the closing minutes. It probably cost them the All-Ireland final last September and now it has deprived them of a league final outing, which they would have warmly welcomed.
"We'd have liked another game, no question. Overall, though, we'd be happy enough with how the league went and what we got out of it," said O'Connor.
Mayo will be even happier, having claimed a place in the final after looking at one stage of the season as if they might be relegated.
"We stuck to the game plan, which was important," said Horan, who now plans to adjust the training schedule in Portugal to take account of the league final assignment.
There's a real vibrancy about them once they get their game into full flow, but they need to deliver a more sustained effort throughout games. The peak-and-valley syndrome didn't cost them as dearly as it might have yesterday, but it won't work in the championship where the margin for error is much smaller.
Still, there's no doubt that Mayo are an interesting work-in-progress, a process that will have been greatly enhanced by the psychological uplift provided by yesterday's win. "You'd learn a lot from a day like this," said Horan.
As for Kerry, they have learned -- painfully at that -- that games have to be seen through to the end. Having leads wiped out in the closing minutes has never been a noted characteristic in Kerry's DNA, but it has now happened twice in seven months. And in Croke Park too. It left plenty for O'Connor and his players to reflect on as they closed their spring account.
Man of the Match: Conor Mortimer (Mayo)
Scorers -- Mayo: C Mortimer 0-7 (4f), C Boyle 1-1, P Harte 1-0 (pen), A Dillon, C O'Connor (1f) 0-2 each, K Higgins, A Moran, R Feeney 0-1 each. Kerry: B Sheehan 0-6 (5f), C Cooper 0-4 (3f), J O'Donoghue 1-0, BJ Keane 0-2, P Curtin, K O'Leary, A Maher, P Galvin, Darran O'Sullivan 0-1 each.
Kerry -- B Kealy 7; S Enright 7, M O Se 7, K Young 7; P Crowley 6, A O'Mahony 6, B McGuire 6; A Maher 7, B Sheehan 7; P Galvin 7, Darran O'Sullivan 7, K Donaghy 5; C Cooper 7, K O'Leary 5, P Curtin 6. Subs: J O'Donoghue 7 for O Leary (42), D Walsh 6 for Curtin (47), E Brosnan 6 O'Mahony (47), J Lyne for McGuire (74), BJ Keane for Young (78).
Mayo -- D Clarke 7; K Keane 7, K Higgins 7, G Cafferkey 7; C Boyle 8, D Vaughan 7, L Keegan 6; B Moran 6, J Gibbons 7; K McLoughlin 6, A Moran 7, A Dillon 7; C Mortimer 8, J Doherty 5, M Conroy 6. Subs: P Harte 7 for Doherty (32), E Varley 6 for Conroy (47), D Geraghty 6 for B Moran (56), R Feeney for Gibbons (70), C O'Connor for Mortimer (70), A Campbell for Harte (85), M Conroy for Dillon (89).
Ref -- E Kinsella (Laois).
The game at a glance
Man of the match
Colm Boyle (Mayo)
Did his defensive duties well, scored a crucial point in the 56th minute and popped to score the levelling goal in the second period of extra-time despite being surrounded by a posse of Kerry defenders.
Kieran's Donaghy's wayward kick towards his own goal in the 67th minute presented Mayo with a lifeline which they took gratefully. Pat Harte's penalty goal cut the margin to one point and then Cillian O'Connor's pointed free sent the game to extra-time.
Four points up against Dublin late in the All-Ireland final, yet Kerry lost. Four up against Mayo late in the league semi-final, yet Kerry lost. Discuss.
Eddie Kinsella's star is rising. He did well enough, although both sides would feel some decisions were wrong.
James Horan (Mayo manager):
"We hung in there, got a few breaks and took them. We kept going for the full 70 minutes of normal time and again in extra-time which was good. We're trying to learn from every game and we'll certainly learn from today."
Jack O'Connor (Kerry manager):
"We needed to close the game out but messed around a bit at the back. Deja vu again. It's disappointing to miss out on the league final but we'd be happy with how the league went."
Wides: Kerry 4 (1) (3) (0); Mayo 8 (1) (5) (2)
Frees: Kerry 29 (10) (11) (8); Mayo 33 (13) (12) (8)
Yellow Cards: Kerry 6 (A Maher 28, P Galvin 46, M O Se 72, S Enright 73, Darran O'Sullivan 80, J Buckley 87); Mayo 5 (K McLoughlin 13, C Boyle 17, L Keegan 41, A Dillon 69, D Geraghty 75)
Mayo will play Cork in the league final on Sunday week.