Kerry defy the odds to earn sweetest of victories
Kerry 1-15 Mayo 2-9
Thirteen-man Kerry defied the odds in Castlebar last night to fashion a famous win over beaten All-Ireland finalists Mayo in a dramatic Allianz League encounter.
Despite having Ronan Shanahan and Gavin Crowley sent off within 90 seconds of each other with 20 minutes remaining, they comfortably held out against the home side who missed four kickable frees in the last quarter.
It was a sweet win for the visitors for other reasons as well. Essentially they fielded a new look side retaining just five of the players who started last August's All-Ireland semi-final replay defeat to Mayo and the victory helped improve their patchy record against these opponents in the league during this decade.
This was just their fourth win from nine league clashes against Mayo since 2010 but surely their sweetest because despite dominating the game they looked in trouble when they lost two-thirds of their half back line. But in their moment of crisis Paul Murphy and Paul Geaney showed leadership qualities which will have delighted Eamonn Fitzmaurice.
It was a disappointing night for Mayo But the loss is merely a continuation of their fitful home form in the league. Last season they won just two of their four games in Castlebar and would have been relegated but for two wins on the road.
Kerry sported their new gold coloured away strip but the bulk of their team had more pressing issues to occupy their thoughts. Seven of their side - and five more from Mayo - are in the middle of a schedule that makes a mockery of player welfare.
This was their third game in seven days and by next Sunday evening they will probably have played five in 14 days as the Sigerson Cup quarter-finals are scheduled for midweek with the third round of the Allianz League to follow at the weekend.
The folly of this schedule was underlined in the first quarter when last year's minor star David Clifford limped off while Mayo lost full-back Ger Cafferkey in the 22nd minute.
Kerry dominated an eventful first half which featured two penalties and five bookings. The visitors' one-point advantage at the break (0-10; 2-3) did scant justice to their overall superiority. The pattern was set within a minute when Clifford got inside Cafferkey but his shot was smothered by David Clarke.
By the 11th minute Kerry were three points ahead but Mayo equalised against the run of play two minutes later. Aidan O'Shea, who was having a bruising personal battle against Gavin Crowley, won a throw-in and forged clear before offloading to Diarmuid O'Connor on his right and the wing forward made no mistake from close range.
But Kerry simply dusted themselves down and hit five points on the spin to take command and but for a brilliant save from Clarke, who stopped a Sean O'Shea penalty in the 24th minute, after Paul Geaney was fouled, the visitors' could have had the points wrapped up at the break.
But leading 1-10 to 1-2 Kerry were caught by a classic Mayo counter punch just before the break. The visitors' defence looked vulnerable when run at and they retreated when Paddy Durcan's solo run took him deep into their territory. He linked up with Neil Douglas who was pulled down in the penalty area and Diarmuid O'Connor confidently booted the penalty to the back of the net.
Kerry lost the subsequent kick-out and Mayo won a free which Jason Doherty kicked to leave just a point between the sides - but the overall poverty of their effort in the first half was underlined by the fact that they scored just one point from play and it came from midfielder Barry Moran who played instead of Colm Boyle.
A Jason Doherty free levelled the tie early in the second half before Kerry hit a purple patch registering 1-2 in the next eight minutes. The goal came from a lucky break with referee Derek O'Mahony failing to award Aidan O'Shea a free even though he was clearly fouled.
An upset O'Shea failed to follow his marker Gavin Crowley who ghosted forward and took a pass from Keane and blasted it to the net.
But then Kerry's indiscipline cost them dearly as Shanahan - who had been fortunate not to pick up a second yellow earlier - was given his marching orders and was followed 60 seconds later by Crowley - who had been dismissed last Sunday as well.
So Kerry had the play the last quarter with 13 men but though substitute Cillian O'Connor to cut the deficit to three points he also missed three placed balls while Doherty squandered another while at the other end Geaney kicked a crucial point for Kerry in the 55th minute.
Kerry lost Brian O Beaglaoich with a black card as the exchanges became increasingly ill-tempered and ragged but the visitors' only interest was to run down the clock. Andy Moran did kick an injury time free for Mayo but Kerry held out and it is the first time since 2009 that they have won their opening two fixtures in the league.
Mayo: D Clarke; B Harrison, G Cafferkey, E O'Donoghue; S Nally, S Coen, P Durcan; J Gibbons, B Moran (0-1); K McLoughlin, A O'Shea, D O'Connor (2-1, 1-0 pen); N Douglas, E Regan (0-1, 1f, J Doherty (0-3, 3f). Subs: C Crowe for Cafferkey 23m; C O'Connor (0-2, 2f) for Regan 44m; A Moran (0-1, 1f) for Douglas; C Boyle for McNally both 52m, F Boland for B Moran 62m, C Loftus for Doherty 73m
Kerry: S Murphy; B O Beaglaoich, J Foley, S Enright; P Murphy (0-1), G Crowley (1-0), R Shanahan; J Barry, B O'Sullivan (0-1); M Burns (0-2), S O'Shea (0-3, 1 45), S O'Brien; D Clifford (0-1), P Geaney (0-3), JP Keane (0-3). Subs: J Savage for Clifford 17m; B O'Sullivan (0-1) for O'Brien 44m; A Barry for Keane 52m, M Flaherty for O'Shea 54m, E O'Conchuir for Burns 58m; C Coffey for O'Beaglaoich BC 65m.
Referee: Derek O'Mahoney (Tipperary)
Sunday Indo Sport