Mayo and Kerry live to fight another day after breathless stalemate
Mayo 2-14 Kerry 2-14
Mayo and Kerry played out a pulsating draw in this classic All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park.
This was an epic encounter. In their eighth championship match of the season Mayo produced their best performance in 2017, even if it took a 74th minute equaliser from Mayo substitute Paddy Durcan to sent the contest into a replay next Saturday at 3pm.
It's the third time in four seasons that Mayo have drawn an All-Ireland semi-final. They finished level with Kerry in 2014 when, coincidentally Bryan Sheehan also had a chance to win it at the death with a long range free. He couldn't convert a similar long range free this afternoon into the Hill 16 end.
And they also finished level with Dublin in the 2015 semi-final. Mayo lost both replays – as well as last year's All-Ireland final - and they will wonder whether they have left their chance behind them again. While this was Kerry's fourth game in the championship it was their first serious test.
One suspects there is more room for improvement in Kerry whose full-back line was taken apart. Veteran Andy Moran rolled back the years to score 1-5 from play.
Interestingly all but one point of Mayo's 2-14 tally came from play whereas Kerry scored 0-5 from frees and seemed to get more of the 50/50 decisions from referee Maurice Deegan.
But on balance neither side deserved to lose a magnificent game.
Against all the odds both teams lined out as selected but the all important match-ups left the Croke Park crowd gasping as directly after the throw-in Aidan O'Shea switched to the edge of the square to mark Kieran Donaghy and he remained there throughout the contest. The key question is whether Mayo will attempt the same of left of field tactic in the replay.
In the ensuing reshuffle Donal Vaughan switched to centre back with Lee Keegan moving to wing forward where he picked up Kerry's link-man Paul Murphy. In the end both players cancelled each other out, though Murphy scored Kerry's last point.
But the most significant tactical switch saw Mayo moved Jason Doherty to full forward where he proceed to torment Mark Griffin for much of the half – the Kerry number three was withdrawn at half time.
Despite the rain the game was played at a blistering pace with Mayo repeatedly exposing weaknesses in the Kerry full back line. Veteran Andy Moran had the measure of Shane Enright and after the Kerry defence failed to clear a routine ball, he blasted the ball to the net for the game's opening score after five minutes.
Colm Boyle, who had a massive first half, linked up with Jason Doherty a minute later and suddenly Mayo were 1-1to no score in front.
As is their wont Kerry worked their back into a fascinating contest. They pressed up on David Clarke's kick-outs and it was a tactic which yielded a rich dividend.
Kerry won three of Clarke's first four re-starts and overall Mayo only managed to win five of Clarke's 13 first half kick-outs. At the other end Kerry were far more economical – Brian Kelly found a team mate with seven of his nine first half kick outs.
Another feature of the first half was Kerry's ability to secure kickable frees – indeed, five of their eight first half points came from frees. In contrast, all of Mayo's first half tally of 2-5 came from frees and them seemed to find it more difficult to secure frees from Maurice Deegan.
Kerry's territorial dominance which resulted from them winning the Mayo's kick-outs finally told after 13 minutes when Donaghy shrugged off the challenge of O'Shea to link-up with Stephen O'Brien who slid the ball past David Clarke.
Mayo, though, simply roared back again with an inter-change of passes between Doherty and Cillian O'Connor created the opportunity for Colm Boyle who kept his head and beat Peter Kelly from close range.
The Connacht side were now on song and hit the next two scores. Indeed, their fifth point in the 23rd minute ought to have been a goal.
Kelly failed to hold a Cillian O'Connor shot and O'Connor squared the rebound to Andy Moran whose goal effort was brilliantly smothered by Mark Griffin – who touched the ball on the ground but the referee missed the incident. Eventually the ball was recycled and Moran kicked a point to put his side in a commanding position leading 2-5 to 1-4.
But Kerry dominated the rest of the half – at least on the scoreboard with three points frees from Paul Geaney and a brilliant individual effort from Donaghy to level the tie (2-5; 1-8) at the break.
Having introduced Jack Savage after 21 minutes Kerry made two further changes at the break withdrawing Anthony Maher and Mark Griffin who were replaced by Jack Barry and Jonathan Lyne respectively.
Donaghy, who not unexpectedly stayed inside the D all day, laid off a ball for Paul Geaney to kick his first point from play and give the Kerry the lead for the first time in the 36th minute. But Mayo roared back hitting the next three points – all from play – from Moran, Donie Vaughan and Cillian O'Connor.
Mayo withdrew Colm Boyle with Paddy Durcan replacing him after 42 minutes but this game was kept giving. Donaghy got a vital touch to a high ball to direct it into the path of David Moran who weaved his way past the cover before unleashing a pile drive which David Clarke brilliant parried. But the rebound fell to Johnny Buckley who squeezed it home from the narrowest of angles.
Mayo lost the subsequent kick out and Paul Geaney hit his sixth point to give Kerry a a one point advantage. O'Connor levelled from a free but mis-hit a 45. But the game was developing into a kicking contest between Paul Geaney with the latter's seventh point and Moran fifth keeping the pot boiling.
David Moran was fortunate to escape with a yellow card for a foul on Aidan O'Shea as Kerry began to miss chances into the Hill 16 end.
A monster point from Cillian O'Connor restored Mayo's one point advantage with ten minutes of normal time left and Kerry withdrew James O'Donoghue and his replacement Barry John Keane made an immediate impact kicking the equalising point.
There was still no sign of Aidan O'Shea moving up the field but Mayo could justifiably claim they were doing ok without him as they dominated possession. The tension was incredible as Lee Keegan and Chris Barrett blazed wide from longe range.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 69th minute after Donaghy ballooned a wild kick towards the Mayo posts. Brendan Harrison failed to secure it and Paul Geaney linked up with Paul Murphy who kicked Kerry into back in front.
Mayo had legitimate appeals for a close in free when Killian Young clearly bundled Cillian O'Connor over but, predictably they got another chance and substitute Paddy Durcan kicked a brilliant equalising point in the 74th minute.
But there was time for one last bit of drama; Tom Parsons who had an outstanding second half won the re-start but his pass was intercepted and Kerry swept forward. Donie Vaughan pulled down substitute Bryan Sheehan. But from a range of 48m Sheehan's free kick dropped left and short and there was no time for any more action.
The replay takes place next Saturday in Croke Park at 3pm.
Kerry: B Kelly; S Enright, M Griffin, K Young (0-1); P Crowley, T Morley, P Murphy (0-1); D Moran, A Maher; M Geaney; J Buckley (1-0), S O'Brien (1-0); P Geaney (0-7, 4f), K Donaghy (0-1), J O'Donoghue (0-3, 2f). Subs: J Savage for M Geaney 21m; J Barry for Maher and J Lyne for Griffin both ht. D O'Sullivan for Buckley 54m; BJ Keane (0-1) for O'Donohgue 62m; B Sheehan for Donaghy 73m
Mayo: D Clarke; C Barrett, A O'Shea, B Harrison, C Boyle (1-0), D Vaughan (0-1), K Higgins; L Keegan, S O'Shea, T Parsons (0-2); K McLoughlin, D O'Connor, L Keegan, J Doherty (0-1), C O'Connor (0-4, 1f) A Moran (1-5). Subs: P Durcan (0-1) for Boyle 43m; S Coen for S O'Shea 58m, D Drake for D O'Connor 67m; C Loftus for Doherty 74m
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)
The official attendance was 66,195