Mayo end final drought with victory over Kerry to secure Allianz Football League title
Mayo 3-11 Kerry 2-10
The long wait is over for Mayo who ended their trophy famine at Croke Park by winning the Allianz Division 1 league tie after a pulsating victory over Kerry.
Having lost ten finals at headquarters – seven All-Ireland deciders and three league deciders – Mayo finally got over the line when they continued their dominance over Kerry, though it wasn't until Ciaran Treacy's 74th-minute goal that their fans could relax.
By the time Treacy's goal sealed the issue, Mayo were down to 14 men after Aidan O'Shea was sent off just before the end of normal time by referee Fergal Kelly after picking up a second yellow card.
For once the Saw Doctors' the Red and Green of Mayo was played over the Croke Park PA at the end of a national final as Mayo captain and Man of the Match Diarmuid O'Connor, who scored 1-2 from play, received his award.
Though Kerry nearly snatched it at the death when only a brilliant save from Rob Hennelly denied David Clifford a goal, Peter Keane's side could have no complaints.
They did score two first-half goals but were overwhelmed in the second half, though it was a mistake from goalkeeper Shane Ryan which handed Mayo a crucial 65th-minute goal. But the starting Kerry forward line only managed 1-2 from play whereas their Mayo counterparts managed 1-7.
It was Mayo's 12th league crown and their first since 2001 while the loss extends Kerry's poor record at Croke Park – they haven't won at headquarters since the 2017 All-Ireland quarter-final.
Mayo left former first-choice goalkeeper David Clarke out of their their match-day squad. Former League of Ireland goalkeeper Michael Slingerman was their sub-goalkeeper. Kerry peppered Hennelly in the early exchanges with an aerial bombardment but he coped comfortably with the challenge, though he did miss a 45 and a long-range free at the other end.
It was the Kerry defence who were more pressurised in the early exchanges, even though they flooded the sector with 13 players whenever they surrendered possession. Twice in the opening ten minutes Mayo created decent goal-scoring opportunities but failed to avail of either.
After seven minutes a terrific three-man movement involving Darren Coen, Lee Keegan and Donal Vaughan split the Kerry defence. The latter found himself clear of the cover but Kerry goalkeeper Shane Ryan saved brilliantly.
Three minutes later Mayo again exposed Kerry's rearguard with another three-man move involving team captain Diarmuid O'Connor, Keith Higgins and Kevin Ruane but the rookie midfielder, who had scored the winning goal when the sides clashed in the league, took the safe option and fisted the ball over the bar to give his side a 3-1 advantage.
But the difference between the sides was underlined in the next 15 minutes. Firstly David Clifford out-fielded his marker Brendan Harrison and jinked his way through on the left before transferring across the face of the goal to the unmarked Gavin Crowley, who blasted the ball to the net.
An enforced error from the under pressure Harrison – he picked the ball off the ground – gave Sean O'Shea a simple free chance to extend Kerry's advantage to two points (1-2; 0-3) after 16 minutes.
The increasingly influential Clifford opened his account with an 18th-minute point and although Jason Doherty replied for Mayo, Kerry struck for a second goal after 26 minutes. Dara Moynihan linked up with Stephen O'Brien who waltzed through a spread-eagled Mayo defence before driving past Hennelly.
There was only one more score in the half and once again it emphasised Mayo's lack of a clinical edge. Shane Ryan miscued his kick–out – he coughed up three during the first half – and Fergal Boland was through but after being pushed out to the right he opted to fist the ball over the bar.
So after an enthralling first half played in bitterly cold conditions before an attendance of 44,257, Kerry led 2-3 to 0-5 at the break with Mayo left to rue their failure to convert any of their three goal chances.
Interestingly, during their seven league matches Kerry had only managed four goals – two of which came in their last match against Roscommon – but they had the ball in the Mayo net on three occasion in the first half – an effort from David Clifford was correctly disallowed for a push on Chris Barrett.
Mayo upped the ante considerably at the start of the second half, pressing up on Shane Ryan's re-starts and winning the first two. And the possession won nearly provided rookie corner-forward James Carr with a never-to-be-forgotten cameo at the Canal End.
He did score two points, one from a mark, and only the brilliance of Shane Ryan denied him a goal after a miscued Kerry restart and given him the opportunity but he delayed a fraction which allow Ryan to position himself to stop his effort with his foot. Stephen Coen did point from the rebound to leave a point between the sides after 39 minutes.
But Kerry steadied the ship scoring the next three points, two via Sean O'Shea frees to extend their advantage to four points.
However, every time Mayo ran at Kerry they exposed gaps in their defence and midfielder Matthew Ruane took advantage, taking a pass from Darren Coen and easily rounding Jack Barry before planting the ball low past Shane Ryan to leave it a one-point game with 22 minutes remaining.
Kerry's scoring rate from play had completely dried though. An O'Shea free kept the scoring ticking over though by the 54th minute they had withdrawn three of their starting forwards, Dara Moynihan, Kevin McCarthy and Tommy Walsh.
All the momentum was now with Mayo with Diarmuid O'Connor hitting a point but they had appeals for a penalty turned down after James Carr went down under pressure in the penalty area and then a shot from Jason Boland struck the upright.
But they could not be denied and after Peter Crowley had cynically stopped Lee Keegan's run into the square, Jason Doherty tapped over the free and Diarmuid O'Connor gave them the lead for the first time since the 13th minute with his second point form play.
As the excitement mounted Kerry midfielder Jack Barry pointed to level the game again with less than ten minutes left to play. Rob Hennelly saved Mayo with a brilliant take from under his crossbar.
From the resultant play Mayo went through endless phases before a Lee Keegan speculative effort towards the Kerry goal. Goalkeeper Shane Ryan made the mistake of advancing off his line and Diarmuid O'Connor managed to get his fist to the ball and direct it into the empty net in the 65th minute to give his side a three-point advantage.
Paul Geaney pulled a point back for Kerry in the 69th minute to keep the tie alive and as the game ticked into lost time, Rob Hennelly made an incredible save from David Clifford with with Colm Boyle completing the clearance.
Despite their superior experience, Mayo were guilty of kicking away possession and David Clifford gave Kerry renewed hope with his second point from play in the 73rd minute. Mayo managed to secure possession from Hennelly's subsequent kick-out and the ball was worked to veteran Andy Moran who used all his guile to hold up possession before slipping it to unmarked substitute Ciaran Treacy who belied his inexperience to drive the ball past Shane Ryan for the assurance goal.
From Ryan's restart a melee broke out and after the warying factions were separated Kerry midfielder Diarmuid O'Connor was red carded. The final whistle sounded afterwards to signal Mayo's long wait for a national title was finally over.
Kerry: S Ryan, P Crowley, J Sherwood, G O'Sullivan; G Crowley (1-1), P Murphy, T O'Sullivan; J Barry (0-1), D O'Connor; D Moynihan, S O'Shea (0-5, 5f), S O'Brien (1-0); D Clifford (0-2), T Walsh, K McCarthy Subs: J O'Donoghue for Moynihan ht. J Foley for Sherwood, M Griffin for McCarthy 41m; P Geaney (0-1) for Walsh 54m, G O'Brien for Crowley 66m
Mayo: R Hennelly; C Barrett, B Harrison, K Higgins; P Durcan (0-1), L Keegan, D Vaughan; M Ruane (1-1), A O'Shea; F Boland (0-2), J Doherty (0-2, 1f), D O'Connor (1-2); K McLoughlin, D Coen (-1), J Carr (0-2, 1 m). Subs: A Moran for Coen 50m; C Boyle for Vaughan 58m. E Regan for Carr 61m, C Treacy (1-0) for Doherty 67m.
Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford),