| 0.2°C Dublin

Kerry back in hunt for final spot as Mayo face big drop

Allianz NFL Division 1: Kerry 1-14 Mayo 1-13

Close

Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke watches on as Kerry’s David Clifford crashes an early penalty off the crossbar in Castlebar. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke watches on as Kerry’s David Clifford crashes an early penalty off the crossbar in Castlebar. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke watches on as Kerry’s David Clifford crashes an early penalty off the crossbar in Castlebar. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Kerry's extended weekend break in Castlebar yielded two precious league points which has rekindled their ambitions of reaching a third final in four seasons.

The squad travelled on Friday but had to stay an extra night after Storm Jorge caused the 24-hour postponement of this game. According to team manager Peter Keane, they whiled away some of their spare time with a karaoke session led by Tommy Walsh. "He's a fantastic singer," suggested Keane.

For most of the first half Kerry's bonding looked to have worked a treat as they overran the home side, building up a nine-point lead (1-8 to 0-2) after 35 minutes. Even though Mayo were playing with the breeze, they had a nightmare start, conceding 1-2 in the first four minutes. And it could have been worse as David Clifford crashed a fifth-minute penalty off the crossbar.

But having kicked two late first-half frees, Mayo - despite having Oisín Mullin black-carded in the 40th minute - were a reborn side in the second period. Before an attendance of 8,069 team captain Aidan O'Shea drove them forward. The introduction of Eoghan McLaughlin and Tommy Conroy added impetus to a forward division which failed to score from play in the first half.

Appropriately, it was a neat interchange between O'Shea and McLaughlin which yielded a 56th-minute goal for the substitute sending their revival into overdrive.

Ultimately, it fell agonisingly short with Keith Higgins missing a glorious chance to kick the equalising point in the fifth minute of injury-time.

Close

Keith Higgins reacts after missing an injury-time chance to level for Mayo. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Keith Higgins reacts after missing an injury-time chance to level for Mayo. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Keith Higgins reacts after missing an injury-time chance to level for Mayo. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Absorbing

Mayo had hit the game's last two scores of the tie but a brace of points from Stephen O'Brien and Paul Geaney - who both came off the bench - at the business end of an absorbing second half were the key scores.

"It would have been a sickener not to have taken the two points," said Keane who insisted that reaching the league final was not a priority for Kerry.

"No (our priority) is the next game in two weeks' time in Inniskeen (against Monaghan). It's not about getting to a final, it's about game upon game and learning from everything. Look, there was things we learned last week and we tried to improve them today."

Close

Dara Moynihan of Kerry in action against Darren Coen of Mayo. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Dara Moynihan of Kerry in action against Darren Coen of Mayo. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Dara Moynihan of Kerry in action against Darren Coen of Mayo. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Despite Mayo's spirited second-half performance against the wind, manager James Horan didn't try to sugarcoat the loss.

"Our performance over the 70 minutes wasn't good enough. In the first half we stood off and we weren't aggressive.

"We didn't put them under the pressure that they needed (to be put under). They are very good footballers and if you stand off them they will play all day.

"We were very, very poor in the first half. We had 11 shots with the wind and scored three of them. So you are going to struggle to beat a quality team like Kerry if you do that even with the second-half performance that we had."

Close

Ryan O'Donoghue of Mayo in action against Paul Murphy and Tom O'Sullivan of Kerry. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Ryan O'Donoghue of Mayo in action against Paul Murphy and Tom O'Sullivan of Kerry. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Ryan O'Donoghue of Mayo in action against Paul Murphy and Tom O'Sullivan of Kerry. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Horan was at a loss to explain why his side were so poor in the first half.

"We will talk about it as a group and tweak a few things. It was a surprise for a home game that was so important for us to win that we were so stand-offish. We have to try and figure it out."

Mayo last beat Kerry in a league tie in Castlebar in 2014 and this was the Kingdom's third successive victory over the home side in MacHale Park.

It could be a potentially ruinous defeat for Mayo's prospects of keeping their proud record of having never played outside the league's top flight since the competition's restructure.

They face arch rivals and Division 1 pacesetters Galway in Salthill in two weeks' time and will probably have to win that game and their last-round tie against Tyrone to stay up.

"Look, we've a big two weeks ahead of us leading into the Galway game. We did a lot of very good things in the second half and guys are coming back into form," suggested Horan.

Mayo have struggled to score efficiently all season - they are the third lowest scorers (ahead of Meath and Tyrone) in the top-flight - and these failings ultimately cost them again.

The difference between the sides is illustrated by the fact that by half-time five Kerry forwards had scored from play, while Tommy Walsh had played a key role in creating Seán O'Shea's goal and providing the assist to Dara Moynihan which led to the penalty.

In contrast, when he hit the game's final score in the fourth minute of injury-time, Kevin McLoughlin was only the second Mayo starting forward to score from play. Substitutes Eoghan McLaughlin and Tommy Conroy did contribute 1-2.

Mayo's inability to convert long-range frees came back to haunt them with Diarmuid O'Connor missing vital kicks. But the windy conditions made shot-taking a lottery and David Clifford posted five wides. The day belonged to Kerry and Keane could not hide his delight. "You try and win your home games so it was a plus for us to win on the road."

Their destiny is now back in their own hands and if they win their remaining two fixtures, they will secure a final spot.

Scorers - Kerry: S O'Shea 1-4 (3f); D Clifford 0-3; G White, M Burns, D Moynihan, T Brosnan, D O'Connor, S O'Brien, P Geaney 0-1 each. Mayo: E McLaughlin 1-1; K McLoughlin 0-3 (2f); D O'Connor 0-2 (2f); T Parsons, D Coen, (1f), R O'Donoghue, E O'Donoghue, T Conroy, A O'Shea, P Towey (f) 0-1 each.

Mayo - D Clarke 6; L Keegan 6, O Mullin 5, J McCormack 6; S Coen 6, K Higgins 5, P Durcan 6; A O'Shea 7, T Parsons 6; J Durcan 5, D O'Connor 6, K McLoughlin 7; J Flynn 6, D Coen 5, R O'Donoghue 6. Subs: E McLoughlin 7 for Parsons (h-t), E O'Donoghue 7 for J Durcan (h-t), T Conroy 7 for Coen (h-t), P Towey 6 for Flynn (65).

Kerry - S Ryan 7; G O'Sullivan 6, T Morley 7, T O'Sullivan 7; S Enright 7, P Murphy 6, G White 7; D O'Connor 7, J Barry 7; M Burns 7, S O'Shea 8, T Walsh 7; D Moynihan 6, D Clifford 7, T Brosnan 7. Subs: S O'Brien 7 for Burns (50), P Geaney 7 for Walsh (52), G Crowley 5 for O'Sullivan (63), K Spillane 5 for Moynihan (65), L Kearney for Brosnan (70+3).

Ref - M McNally (Monaghan)

Irish Independent