Marvelous Mayo: Kerry hoodoo laid to rest, now it's time for final push
Mayo, by the scenic route and having endured the usual heart-stopping moments along the way, are back in another All-Ireland final after defeating Kerry for the first time in the championship since 1996. Before 53,032 at Croke Park, Stephen Rochford's players were good value for their 2-16 to 0-17 victory, with Kerry again failing to produce the kind of form that won them the National League earlier in the year.
The defeat will probably spell major changes for the Kerry panel and could also see the end of Eamonn Fitzmaurice's management reign, which peaked with the All-Ireland win of 2014. Hopes in Kerry that they would improve on a poor showing in the drawn match quickly faded as Mayo took control of the game early in the first half and led for most of it.
Goals in each half from Diarmuid O'Connor and the evergreen Andy Moran inspired Mayo as they reached their fourth All-Ireland final of the current decade and offered a firm rebuttal to those who felt their best days were already behind them.
They will meet the winners of today's semi-final between Dublin and Tyrone. Hopes of ending that long wait for an All-Ireland title that stretches back to 1951 remain very much alive.
"We did well enough to win an All-Ireland semi-final," said Mayo manager Rochford afterwards. "We knew that Kerry were going to come at us really hard. We knew we would have to match that and do better. I thought we did that. It was really important that we didn't allow Kerry to get their fast start that they had got in previous championship games. That allowed us take a hold of the game."
Huge pre-match speculation centred on whether Mayo would again use Aidan O'Shea as a man-marker on Kieran Donaghy, a move that had attracted much criticism after the drawn match, a game Mayo dominated. This time O'Shea started centre-forward and was highly influential in the early stages but soon moved back on Donaghy, taking over from Donie Vaughan.
Donaghy didn't have the same impact as he did in the drawn game and his day finished with a red card three minutes into injury time after he appeared to strike at O'Shea while Mayo prepared to take a kick-out.
Mayo led by five points at half-time and Moran's goal two minutes into the second half had them eight points clear, leaving Kerry with a mountain to climb.
"There are always lessons to take on the days you win and obviously on the days you lose," said Rochford when asked if last year's losing final experience will stand to them.
Physically we are in good shape and we need to look back on the tape and see what are the areas we can get better at and how we can take the game to Dublin and Tyrone, two teams that will offer us possibly different styles and different problems but we will concern ourselves with that tomorrow."
Kerry will face a long winter and there will be hard questions asked of the decision to employ a sweeper, with Paul Murphy taking up that role, and the decision to leave off James O'Donoghue. The corner-forward was one of two half-time changes and posed a threat to Mayo in the second half. Kerry sprung a surprise in selecting Tom O'Sullivan for the first time, playing him in defence, and their forwards malfunctioned, with the exception of Paul Geaney. Donnchadh Walsh was recalled after injury but didn't look match-fit and couldn't get into the game.
Peter Crowley was sent off for Kerry in the final ten minutes with his side trailing by four points and that reduced their prospects of rescuing the match. But they were being beaten in many key positions by then and for long stretches Mayo demolished them in the middle of the field. Kerry's kick-out strategy backfired, while David Clarke had his finest match from restarts and also made a crucial second-half save.
Sunday Indo Sport