Cooper sets early tempo but Kingdom still struggle to see off Mayo
THEY say you should never fret too much about 'winning ugly' but not even maintaining a four-game unbeaten Division 1 league streak could stop a frown crossing Jack O'Connor's features in Tralee yesterday.
One obvious source of concern was the late knee twist suffered by Marc O Se, which will see the county's new centre-back choice undergo a scan today to assess the seriousness of his injury.
But the Kerry manager was clearly also frustrated by his side's erratic, error-strewn performance, which might have proved seriously costly had Colm Cooper (0-8, five from play) not been so imperious early on and had Mayo not missed several good goal chances.
"We knew this was a potential banana skin," O'Connor admitted. "After winning two games up North, we knew fellas mightn't be as tuned in as they should be. In many ways, it's easier tune in for away games because fellas are together the night before."
He highlighted too much lateral passing and a lack of penetration as Kerry's persistent problem, but, rightly concluded " we won't have too much doom and gloom, we won the game!"
It is testament to his side's lofty standards and the expectations on him that, even in victory, O'Connor had to face such a lengthy post-mortem.
In truth, Kerry never really looked like losing, though Tom O'Sullivan had to make a vital goalmouth intervention against Conor Mortimer in the dying minutes which yielded a '45' which Aidan Kilcoyne failed to convert.
Early on, the combination of Paul Galvin, Kieran Donaghy and Cooper looked like filleting Mayo with trademark early high ball and knock-downs which the Gooch gobbled up, scoring six of his eight points by half-time.
But Kerry's inability to expand on an 0-8 to 0-4 interval lead and their subsequent lack of fluency and composure certainly unsettled the big home crowd and O'Connor wasted no time in making changes, starting with a treble substitution after 47 minutes that included returned Aussie Rules star Tadhg Kennelly and definitely breathed new impetus into them.
Both sides were without some U-21 stars because of Saturday's provincial U-21 championship games but Mayo were most affected, much to John O'Mahony's agitation.
The Mayo manager had voiced his opposition to the "crazy scheduling of the U-21 competition" earlier in the week and reiterated it yesterday.
"We literally weren't able to pick a team until five minutes before we left the hotel," O'Mahony said. "I know Kerry were probably affected as well but we're fighting for our lives."
Mayo face an even bigger dog-fight now and questions will certainly asked about their first-half lethargy.
Andy Moran was selected at corner-forward but played at wing-back, allowing Ger Cafferkey to act as a defensive sweeper yet, at times early on, no one seemed to be marking Galvin and Cafferkey soon had to take over on Cooper from Chris Barrett.
Struggling in midfield -- where Anthony Maher impressed in his first league start for Kerry -- and with Tom O'Sullivan containing Conor Mortimer to just two frees, Mayo's two-man full-forward line never really got going.
With the Kerry wing-backs completely on top and Tommy Griffin pulling out three brilliant blocks, Mayo rarely threatened by half-time, though Diarmuid Murphy did have to make a good save from Alan Dillon on the half-hour.
Donaghy immediately wasted a great chance at the other end when his daisycutter screeched across the goalmouth but Kerry still went in four points up and cruising.
But when Mayo's half-backs upped the ante on the re-start Kerry suddenly floundered.
Andy Moran got two notable scores and his first cut the deficit to just a point after 41 minutes.
Aidan Kilcoyne's arrival further beefed up the Mayo attack where Austin O'Malley saw off full-back Aidan O'Shea.
But after going 10 minutes without a score, an inspirational point from Cooper, quickly followed by two from captain Darran O'Sullivan helped extend Kerry's lead to four again.
Kennelly's energy and combativeness from the minute he arrived helped Kerry close it out and he made one super midfield catch to set up a great 65th-minute goal chance which Cooper narrowly missed.
Young Mayo minor star Aidan O'Shea also impressed in his cameo and O'Mahony balefully observed: "I know this team will come good. The talent is there and we have more to come in. I just don't know if it'll come good in my stint or not."
Scorers -- Kerry: C Cooper 0-8 (3f), K Donaghy and D O'Sullivan 0-2 each , M Quirke 0-1. Mayo: A Moran, A O'Malley, C Mortimer (2f) 0-2 each, R McGarrity, P Harte, T Mortimer, A Kilcoyne, A Dillon (f) 0-1 each.
Kerry -- D Murphy; P Reidy, A O'Shea, T O'Sullivan; T O Se, M O Se, T Griffin; A Maher, M Quirke; P Galvin, Declan O'Sullivan, D Walsh; C Cooper, K Donaghy, Darran O'Sullivan (Capt). Subs: A O'Mahony for O'Shea, S Scanlon for Quirke, T Kennelly for Walsh (all 47 mins), D Bohane for Griffin (56), R O'Flatharta for M O Se (inj, 59), K O'Leary for Darran O'Sullivan (66).
Mayo -- D Clarke; L O'Malley, K Conroy, C Barrett; P Gardiner, T Cunniffe, C Cafferkey; P Harte, R McGarrity (Capt); M Ronaldson, T Mortimer, A Dillon; C Mortimer, A O'Malley, A Moran. Subs: A Kilcoyne for Ronaldson (52), A O'Shea for Dillon (55).
Ref -- P Fox (Westmeath).