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Kerry survive brave Mayo fightback to secure dramatic victory as Horan's men face relegation battle

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Tom O'Sullivan of Kerry is tackled by Aidan O'Shea of Mayo

Tom O'Sullivan of Kerry is tackled by Aidan O'Shea of Mayo

SPORTSFILE

Tom O'Sullivan of Kerry is tackled by Aidan O'Shea of Mayo

Kerry reignited their League ambitions and plunged Mayo deeper into the Division 1 relegation zone in Castlebar on Sunday.

The visitors survived a dramatic second-half comeback inspired by Aidan O’Shea to secure their first away win of the season. Mayo trailed by nine points at one stage but a second-half goal from substitute Eoghan McLaughlin sparked a comeback and almost secured a draw at the death, but Keith Higgins missed a glorious chance to equalise.

Though this was only the Kingdom’s fourth victory over Mayo in the last six seasons, it was their third in a row in Castlebar. The home side are well used to fighting against the odds to keep their place in the top-flight and they now face a third battle in four years to stay in Division 1.

James Horan’s side face arch-rivals Galway in Salthill in two weeks’ time while their last game against Tyrone the following weekend will be momentous. Kerry’s run-in is not straight forward – they face another long journey in two weeks’ time to Monaghan while their last match in on home soil against Donegal.

Under the gaze of a snow-capped Nephin, defending league champions Mayo hosted Kerry in a repeat of last year’s final. While the home side had already surrendered that title, securing the points remained a priority given their precarious position at the foot of the table.

Veteran defender Keith Higgins started his first game since last year’s championship and James McCormack and Tom Parsons were also late inclusions, while up front Kevin McLoughlin was making his 140th appearance at senior level.

Mayo made a nightmare start and found themselves 1-2 to no score adrift after just five minutes – and it could have been worse.

They were mostly the authors of their own misfortunes. A mis-directed clearance in the second minute was snapped up by Michael Burns who combined with Tommy Walsh – a late replacement for Stephen O’Brien – and he put Sean O’Shea through - and the centre forward made no mistake from close range.

O’Shea (free) and Gavin White added points before Walsh unhinged the Mayo defence for a second time and sent Dara Moynihan clear. He was hauled down by Keith Higgins, but David Clifford drove the resultant penalty off the crossbar and Mayo eventually cleared the danger.

Mayo’s inability to win their own kick-out was proving costly and though they eventually managed to get a foothold, Kerry led 1-3 to 0-2 at the midpoint in the first half. The home side’s only score from play came from midfielder Tom Parsons.

Mayo’s struggle to win their own kick-out continued during the second quarter whereas Kerry were able to win a succession of marks from their re-starts.

However, the Mayo defence did tighten up and the visitors’ scoring rate dropped. However, they still led by seven points at the break (1-8; 0-4) which scarcely reflected their superiority as Mayo hit the last two points with a brace of Kevin McLoughlin frees.

The difference between the sides was emphasised in the contribution of the respective forward divisions. Five of Kerry’s forwards scored from play – with Tony Brosnan’s brilliant individual point the highlight – whereas none of their Mayo counterparts found their range from play. Instead, they hit seven wides even though they had wind advantage.

Gavin White’s searing speed along the left flank exposed Kevin McLoughlin’s lack of mobility and apart from scoring a point, he set up two other scores while Tommy Walsh was hugely influential as well.

Mayo introduced three substitutes: Eoghan McLaughlin, Eoin O’Donoghue and Tommy Conroy at the start of the second half and there was a noticeable improvement in their play with Aidan O’Shea leading the charge.

Diarmuid O’Connor tapped over two early frees but also missed a 45 and a 21m free which rebounded wide off the upright. Though full-back Oisin Mullin was black carded for a trip on Clifford, it didn’t halt Mayo’s momentum.

But Kerry ended a barren 13-minute scoreless spell with a Sean O’Shea point and after O’Connor had missed another long-range free for Mayo , Clifford scoreds an exquisite point from under the stand to ease the nerves of the visiting fans among the official attendance of 8,079.

But their joy was short-lived as the game was back in the melting pot in the 56th minute when Mayo won a crucial turnover and substitute Eoin McLaughlin played a one-two with Aidan O’Shea. The Westport clubman found the far corner of the net.

Kerry’s Diarmuid O’Connor and Eoin O’Donoghue exchanged points but two crucial strikes from replacements Stephen O’Brien and Paul Geaney gave the visitors some breathing space. They survived, though Keith Higgins had a glorious chance to kick the equaliser in the fifth minute of injury time, but his effort drifted left and wide.

Scorers: 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 (1f) 0-1 each.

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: D Clarke; L Keegan, O Mullin, J McCormack, S Coen, K Higgins, P Durcan; A O’Shea, T Parsons; J Durcan, D O’Connor; K McLoughlin, J Flynn, D Coen, R O’Donoghue. Subs: E McLoughlin for Parsons ht; E O’Donoghue for Durcan ht; T Conroy for Coen ht; P Towey for Flynn (65)

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

Referee: Martin McNally (Monaghan)

Online Editors