Thursday 19 April 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Controlled fury wins the day to expose Kerry's limitations

Aidan O'Shea of Mayo in action against David Moran of Kerry during yesterday’s All-Ireland semi-final replay. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Aidan O'Shea of Mayo in action against David Moran of Kerry during yesterday’s All-Ireland semi-final replay. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Mayo again on the verge of the promised land. A performance of manliness, aggression and bravery which reduced Kerry to an indisciplined outfit. The last act of Kieran Donaghy summed it all up, a red card which was an inglorious end to a career of many highs. Donaghy had made little impact on the game compared to the drawn match and the frustration boiled over.

Mayo had many heroes. It started with goalkeeper David Clarke who saved a few but, more importantly, delivered his kick-outs accurately which started many attacks. The general perception was that Kerry would learn more from the draw - it was quite the opposite.

Mayo, who were poor on the Kerry kick-out in the drawn game, forced Brian Kelly to kick long which suited the more physical players that Mayo had around midfield. When he went short it was with a sense of panic, the ultimate example of that was when he kicked over his own end line. That is a new one for me.

The suspicion that this was a limited Kerry team was reinforced during the first half when Mayo overwhelmed them in possession but it did not look like it would count until Diarmuid O'Connor sneaked in and caught both defender and goalkeeper asleep at the wheel for the first goal of the game. Even at that the gap was not insurmountable but the quick goal after half-time gave Mayo breathing space.

It again showed a Kerry defence at sea with Shane Enright outfielded by Andy Moran who turned, played a one-two with Cillian O'Connor, and finished from a yard out. Enright has had two roastings in a week in Croke Park, and Moran was brilliant again.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice made a lot of changes to his team to shake things up. None of them worked and the decision to leave James O'Donoghue on the line was misguided. When he came on he added pace, power and accuracy to the attack. Up to then it was dependent on Paul Geaney and a bird never flew on one wing. Even at that Kerry were only four down with 15 minutes to play and Mayo scrambled away a couple of great goal chances.

At this stage the true warriors stood out. Higgins and Boyle were fantastic, so too were the O'Sheas, Jason Doherty had his best ever game, while Conor Loftus added a new dimension. Lee Keegan was not good and was taking on shots when he should have recycled. He needs to play more for the team as he can be a match-winner in the final.

The concern always with Mayo is that their feet turn to putty with the finish line in sight. Yesterday they drove on and wanted more scores rather than sitting back. Getting 1-8 in both halves showed that they realised they could not win this game in the second half just by defending.

The tactics of a winning team are nearly always lauded; Stephen Rochford was not necessarily wrong by playing Aidan O'Shea at full-back in the drawn game and not necessarily right by persisting with it - but the scoreboard at the end means the winner takes all the plaudits.

O'Shea was good, Donaghy much less influential so the balance of advantage was firmly in Mayo's direction. A week ago, Donaghy brought his forwards into the match but this time they were not able to cope when left to their own devices. It is a poor enough Kerry team and there will be a lot of new blood when we see them again in Croke Park.

Mayo are back again on centre court in September, a month which has brought a lot of misery to them in the past. Yet the massive support still believe and will make the journey from the four corners of the world in three weeks. The local support in Mayo itself must be broke following this team but they would not swap it. On the road this year they have had the most fantastic entertainment from a group of players who have lit up many summers with their skill, passion and bravery.

Justice would ordain that the next match would be the crowning glory but sometimes there is no justice in court and often less on the sporting field. Yet there is a fair wind on the Mayo team's back right now and this controlled fury will be hard to stop.

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