Tuesday 15 October 2019

10 things to love about Mayo versus Kerry

Frank Roche

BACK in January, this seemed the unlikeliest of final pairings. Kerry had too many rookies, too many spring absentees. Mayo had a history of roller coaster leagues and too many players with too long to travel.

But now it has come to pass. Kerry as Allianz FL Division 1 table-toppers, six wins from six. Mayo as strong-finishing Trojans after a mid-spring blip.

And so will resume one of the great rivalries of this decade. Dublin/Mayo and Dublin/Kerry may be viewed in more epic terms, but Mayo/Kerry has given us the full gamut of good, bad, ugly and even bizarre: from those green-and-red horror shows of the mid-noughties to the 2017 replay, when Mayo ended a 21-year championship famine.

Here are ten reasons to love these implacable enemies ...

1. THE HORRORS

When Mayo had the temerity to burst Páidí’s bubble in 1996, with the aid of a James Nallen wonder goal and a James Horan lob launched from just outside Ballintubber, they reached one All-Ireland final and yet planted the seed for future Kerry vengeance.

Cue a series of HQ horror shows, various forwards taking it in turn to twist the knife: Maurice Fitz in ‘97; Colm Cooper and Kieran Donaghy in the noughties and beyond. The 2004 final was bad for Mayo; 2006 more gruesome still.

2. GOOCH THE GRIN REAPER

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No forward relished the sight of that back-pedalling green-and-red jersey more than Cooper, the smiling assassin and Mayo’s grin reaper. In four SFC showdowns he amassed 4-15, 4-10 from play: 1-5 in the ‘04 All-Ireland, 1-1 in the ‘05 quarter-final, 1-2 in the ‘06 decider, 1-7 in the ‘11 semi-final.

3. THE 2012 TURNING

Despite the nine-point margin in 2011, James Horan could take some solace - Mayo had made a real game of it for over 40 minutes. Then came another turning point in 2012: Mayo snatched victory from the jaws of another seemingly inevitable Croker defeat to Kerry, winning a roller coaster league semi-final (2-15 to 1-17). For once, instead of tormenting Mayo, Donaghy gifted a back-pass howler that led to a penalty and extra-time.

4. A TWO-GAME CLASSIC

Where do you start with the magic and mayhem of 2014, an epic semi-final over two weekends on opposite sides of the country? How about Lee Keegan’s red - controversially rescinded. Or 14-man Mayo’s second half brilliance as they surged from five down to five up? Or Donaghy’s game-changing introduction, teeing up James O’Donoghue’s crucial late goal as Kerry drew level - and then almost won it with the very last kick?

5. LIMERICK JUNCTION

Onto the replay, shunted to Limerick because of, we kid you not, a game of colleges American football. This breathless, boisterous sequel had everything. Mayo racing seven up before it all started to turn. Colliding Mayo heads. Cormac Reilly’s chaotic refereeing. Another Kerry comeback. Extra-time. More Mayo heartbreak compounded by Horan calling time.

6. PITCH-INVADER

A special chapter for the agitated fan - known as  ‘Mayo Mick’ - who ran onto the Gaelic Grounds pitch, had to be manhandled away by a posse of stewards, was then asked to pose for photos in Supermacs later that evening, and subsequently was hit with a 12-month ban.

7. BIG AIDO AT NO 3

Mayo full-backs have long lived in dread of the towering Donaghy, from those shock-and-awe opening minutes of 2006 all the way through to both days in 2014. In the absence of a suitable giant at No 3, Stephen Rochford had a leftfield solution - Aidan O’Shea. After the drawn semi-final of 2017, some of the media reaction (“Tactically, Mayo are lions led by donkeys” screamed one headline) was damning. But who had the last laugh?

8. MAYO’S MAGICAL BEST

Come the replay, showing a greater aptitude for his new role, O’Shea curtailed Donaghy’s influence as Mayo produced one of their finest hours, blitzing Kerry by 2-16 to 0-17. We even had an injury-time postscript: a red card for Donaghy after clashing with O’Shea. As the Kerry totem later told SportsJoe, straight up: “He stood down on my foot, I boxed him.”

9. HOME HICCUPS

An amazing stat pertaining to this rivalry: Kerry hate playing Mayo in Kerry. They haven’t beaten them on home turf since edging a two-point league victory in 2009. This decade has yielded one draw and four Mayo wins on Kerry soil, the most recent in Tralee just 13 nights ago. Switching all future home ties from Castlebar is the next logical step ...

10. THE BUCKLEY FACTOR

Donie Buckley is a son of Castleisland but, until recently, he was more associated with Mayo than his native Kerry, having spent six seasons (under three management teams) coaching this current generation to heights not seen since ‘51. This much-coveted guru has now been coaxed back to Kerry, part of Peter Keane’s dream team. Could his influence derail Mayo hopes of a first national crown since 2001? Watch this space ...

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