Kerry exert home rule to make big statement in victory over Mayo
Kerry 1-22 Mayo 0-15
As referee Sean Hurson prepared to throw the ball in to start this game, both sets of midfielders made clear their determination not to concede an inch. There was more than just possession at stake.
Like rutting stags they hammered off each other. Hurson let it run, presumably to allow the combatants to let some steam off, but the collisions still continued. Eventually, he got it underway and Adrian Spillane found enough space between Aidan O'Shea and Donal Vaughan to steal and launch an attack.
It came to nothing, but for Kerry it felt like an important psychological win.
O'Shea doesn't lose many throw-ins so it was one to target, to lay down a marker and counter the perception that Kerry have been physically submissive to this Mayo team in recent meetings.
And that's how it developed all evening; big Kerry players making big statements, Mayo unable to offer anything in return until it was too late.
Ultimately the spread of defeats to Mayo over the last three years, the need to win their first game at home and the drum roll being sounded by old warriors all week created an environment where they just couldn't afford to lose.
They simply had to perform or risk more subjective opinion about their inability to translate underage potential into tangible senior progress.
For that to happen they needed to start fast. And when they did, they didn't look back, generating arguably their best championship performance in company like this in five years.
For this group, it felt like a significant turn on the development path.
Mayo briefly checked them when the home side opened a quick three-point lead, 0-4 to 0-1, but with their kick-out faltering badly and David Moran enjoying a day at this level that he hasn't had since facing the same opponents in 2014, Kerry went to town.
Into the mix was their Killarney championship record stretching back 24 years and now incorporating 31 games - and the idea they play their best football here on a day like this.
They backed both up with some sublime first-half play. Moran's fielding was majestic. He took three of the nine first-half kick-outs from David Clarke that Mayo couldn't retain, on top of claiming one of his own. Aidan O'Shea was quite subdued in his company.
Moran, Paul Murphy and Paul Geaney may have been among those to feel chill winds blowing in their direction after last year's opening two Super 8s games, when an absence of leadership was apparent, but here they were very much the guiding hands.
With Tom O'Sullivan shutting down James Carr and Jason Foley doing a decent job on Darren Coen, who still pinched three points, Mayo's form forwards struggled to make an impact.
At the other end, David Clifford was unplayable - as he is on most days he comes to play. He just sees no end to a cul-de-sac.
By the 21st minute he had three points from play for a 0-9 to 0-4 lead and when he landed a monster 45-metre free that was hugging the sideline on the stand side for a 0-12 to 0-4, that sinking feeling for Mayo intensified. There really was no way back.
Sean O'Shea was instrumental, too, flying by Stephen Coen in the fourth minute for Kerry's third point and landing all six frees.
Inevitably, Lee Keegan picked him up, but earned a 47th-minute booking and, as the temperature in their duel rose, Mayo opted to replace their go-to marker, which will have felt like a success for the young Kerry centre-forward.
At times Mayo looked a tired team, unable to go with the searing pace Kerry applied in the heat. When the game settled in the second-half they were more comfortable. Seamus O'Shea came on to shore up a struggling midfield at the break, with Keith Higgins pushing up front in a throwback to 2013.
Substitutes Andy Moran, Fergal Boland and Ciarán Tracey contributed four points between them and Tracey was fouled by Kerry sub Diarmuid O'Connor for a 67th-minute penalty. Cillian O'Connor's effort was brilliantly pushed over by a Shane Ryan touch.
For O'Connor, breaking Colm Cooper's championship scoring record in Killarney, as he did with a 50th-minute free which took his tally to 23-284, will feel hollow. Earlier in the half he had another goal chance when a 51st-minute shot flashed off the crossbar and rebounded back into play.
They did some damage themselves on the Kerry kick-out in the second-half, winning seven of the 13 Ryan despatched. But with too much to do, it never had the same impact.
Kerry wrapped it up with a well-worked goal. Stephen O'Brien had been a thorn in their side throughout with his elusive running and when he cut in from the left in the 56th minute, his perfectly-weighted fist pass across the Mayo goalmouth was comfortably batted to the net by Geaney.
Kerry's best goal chance in the first-half saw Moran and Geaney combine to put James O'Donoghue -one of four late replacements to the named team - in on goal, but his rasping shot was tipped over for a point by Clarke.
No doubt James Horan will have used the long journey back up to Mayo last night to ponder potential changes in personnel and everywhere, even the goalkeeping position, will be under the microscope again, despite the magnificent security Clarke has given them over the last number of weeks and years.
They're down, but with a game against Meath to come in Croke Park next weekend they can certainly pick themselves up ahead of a home match in the final round against Donegal.
They'll hope Kerry keep winning now and on the first-half evidence they will, at least at this stage of the competition. After a few years of indecision this felt like lift-off.
Scorers - Kerry: S O'Shea (6f), D Clifford (2f) 0-7 each; P Geaney 1-2; S O'Brien 0-3; D Moran, G O'Sullivan, J O'Donoghue 0-1 each. Mayo: C O'Connor 0-6 (3fs, 1 pen); D Coen 0-3; A Moran 0-2; L Keegan, F Boland, C Treacy, F McDonagh 0-1 each.
Kerry - S Ryan 7; T O'Sullivan 7, J Foley 8, T Morley 7; P Murphy 8, S Enright 7, G Crowley 7; D Moran 9, A Spillane 7; G White 6, S O'Shea 7, S O'Brien 8; D Clifford 9, P Geaney 7, J O'Donoghue 6. Subs: D Moynihan 6 for O'Donoghue (h-t), G O'Sullivan 7 for Enright (51), D O'Connor 5 for Spillane (58), B O Beaglaoich for Foley (62), M Burns for Geaney (69), M Griffin for Crowley (71)
Mayo - D Clarke 6; K Higgins 7, C Barrett 6, B Harrison 6; S Coen 5, L Keegan 6, C Boyle 6; A O'Shea 6, D Vaughan 6; F McDonagh 6, K McLoughlin 5, J Doherty 5; C O'Connor 6, D Coen 7, J Carr 5. Subs: S O'Shea 6 for McDonagh (h-t), A Moran 7 for Carr (46), C Treacy 7 for McLoughlin (48), F Boland 7 for Coen (52), J McCormack 6 for Keegan (60), E O'Donoghue for Barrett (65).
Ref - S Hurson (Tyrone)