Marvellous Mayo: Kerry hoodoo laid to rest, now for final push
Mayo 2-16 Kerry 0-17
Mayo, in their unique and irrepressible way, continue to create a magic that bewitches those who may feel they have seen all there is to see. Towards the end of this magnificent victory, with the game looking secure even for a county known for courting disaster at the unlikeliest turn, the crowd bathed in green and red in the 53,032 attendance was in full voice, acclaiming their imminent qualification for another All-Ireland final, and another tilt at that maddeningly elusive prize.
The fears among their followers that they might have left it behind after the drawn match, when they dominated but didn't win, proved unfounded. Mayo were as good again and better - and Kerry were worse.
It was an astonishing match littered with yellow cards and ending with three men sent off the field; two on second yellows, one, Kieran Donaghy, on a straight red in injury time near the end. The towering forward made what could have been his final walk off Croke Park after appearing to swing a fist at Aidan O'Shea, his companion for most of the match.
A minute before his dismissal Paul Durcan was dismissed on a second yellow and Kerry lost Peter Crowley to the same fate in the 63rd minute, a hammer blow to their hopes of rescuing the match. Whereas the drawn match had seen the sides tied on 14 occasions, this tie brought an early Mayo dominance which they maintained for the remainder. When Crowley went off Kerry were within four points of Mayo, still hoping, but within a minute Jason Doherty, excellent once again, landed a '45 which triggered liberating scores from Kevin McLoughlin and substitute Conor Loftus, each one cheered uproariously by the Mayo support.
Mayo were dominant in most parts of the field and Kerry succumbed in most positions. That could not hold a team together and by half-time, five points down, and with just six points scored, Kerry tried to do what they could to make changes and spark some new life into the team. They started with debutant Tom O'Sullivan in defence and used Paul Murphy as a sweeper protecting their full-back line but they were still in trouble. Jonathan Lyne replaced Mark Griffin and James O'Donoghue was left on the bench. Jack Barry started in the middle of the field.
Not much worked. Shane Enright went off early in the second half when his man, Andy Moran, in the twilight of his career, jumped for a ball like a man on springs, and then worked a one-two with Cillian O'Connor before bundling the ball to the net. Moran was not as good as the first day but still very good. His goal two minutes into the second half put Mayo eight points clear and while Kerry kept plugging and halved that deficit later in the game they couldn't get close enough and they were denied the goal they craved.
There were a few close calls. Paul Geaney, Kerry's best forward who finished with ten points, had a goal chance set up by Donaghy which was stopped on the line by Colm Boyle, one of Mayo's most heroic players on the day. Boyle, left on, untypically, until near the end, received a deserved ovation when wheeled ashore. Chris Barrett was also monumental and masterful in shadowing his man and defending with discipline. And David Clarke, depicted as a man whose greatest fear is when he was to kick the ball out, had an expert day from restarts. It helped that when he went long Mayo destroyed Kerry around the middle of the field but most of his kicks were successful while at the other end Kerry's kick-outs, particularly in the first half, were an unmitigated disaster.
At one stage midway through the first half, Brian Kelly took a short kick-out that went straight out over his own end line for a Mayo '45. Mayo started Donie Vaughan on Donaghy but after the Kerry man got on a few early attacks they moved O'Shea back on him ten minutes in. In the second half when Kerry were forced to go high and long, chasing the game, O'Shea did enough to spoil the tactic. In the time O'Shea was out the field he showed his ability to wield huge influence and he caught the throw-in at the start of the second half, leading to a Mayo score when he was fouled charging forward. Soon, though, he was restored as Donaghy's guard.
Kerry started the second half with O'Donoghue, who looked sharp, and Darran O'Sullivan in their attack which had failed to spark. But O'Sullivan had a frustrating day too, his time cut short by a black card dismissal over which he was visibly upset and animated.
Kerry were level by the 13th minute of the match, sharing eight points, but from there Mayo started to draw clear. McLoughlin kicked a neat score, Boyle won a free for Cillian O'Connor to convert, and his fifth free left three points between them ten minutes from half-time. Mayo could, given their possession, have been more in front but missed chances. However, they had a major break in the 27th minute when Vaughan's high ball was finished by Diarmuid O'Connor, getting ahead of Lyne and beating Kelly to the dropping ball for a critical goal.
From the next attack Kerry nearly had a goal, a quick free finding Crowley but he scuffed a low shot wide of the far post. It would have been undeserved. Barrett came up and scored a huge point to put Mayo six points up on the half-hour and by the interval they held a lead of 1-8 to 0-6 that in no way flattered them.
Moran's early second-half goal fired up Mayo's confidence but it was a long time to have to sit on a lead. They lost Cillian O'Connor to a black card in the 52nd minute but Doherty took over the free-taking duty with aplomb. In the 46th minute Kerry nearly cut the margin to three points when three successive goal attempts were foiled. Keith Higgins half-blocked the first attempt, then Clarke saved brilliantly from Geaney and Stephen O'Brien's last effort was denied by Boyle.
It summed up Mayo's spirit and resistance on the day. They are facing their 10th match of the championship in three weeks against Dublin or Tyrone. The dream lives on.