Mayo hit new heights to keep the dream alive
Mayo 2-16 Kerry 0-17
There were so many moments of defiance and examples of iron will from Mayo in this All-Ireland semi-final that they are almost impossible to divide and number in accordance of importance.
But two simply jump off the page in terms of summing up the level of obstinacy that they bring to their football.
The first focused on that sequence of opportunities for Kerry in the 45th minute when Kieran Donaghy deftly put Stephen O'Brien bearing down on goal.
But there to block his initial shot was Keith Higgins. From the rebound David Clarke spread himself to deny O'Brien again. Then Paul Geaney stepped in and he too was thwarted by a combination of Clarke and Colm Boyle.
Mayo were 2-9 to 0-9 ahead at that stage. Any leakage would have been a firm invitation to keep coming but, instead, the vibe emanating was one of absolute resistance that said 'not today'.
In added time James O'Donoghue, omitted by Eamonn Fitzmaurice for the second successive year, twisted and turned to engineer a decent shooting platform off his left foot.
At this stage Kerry were five points down, 2-15 to 0-16, but the mindset of those Mayo players hadn't shifted.
Higgins got the block, Boyle gathered the rebound. The old firm.
Five years on from their first All-Ireland final in this current cycle, six years on from the first of nine All-Ireland semi-finals they've been engaged in, here they were still banging down the door, hassling and harrying the perceived No 1 contenders to Dublin's title off the premises.
Those snapshots perhaps encapsulated all that is best about them.
After a ragged and fractured first six championship games they have exploded into life in their last three, getting to a performance pitch that has been there in more abbreviated versions over the last six years.
The All-Ireland semi-finals of 2012, when they beat Dublin, and 2014 when they turned a five-point deficit into a five-point lead with 14 men against Kerry before Donaghy intervened, were previous high points.
But, in totality, this is as good as it has been from this group, something loosely acknowledged by manager Stephen Rochford afterwards.
"Possibly, because it is an All-Ireland semi-final. There is only one other bigger game in your year. I won't rush into that before I review it. I'm just proud of the way the players performed, they went out to make sure we didn't leave it behind us," he reflected.
Essentially, it's the same players pushing and probing, the same central characters who drive it. They were aggressive, and equally patient, when they had to be. They pushed up on Kerry's kick-outs and destroyed Kerry, winning eight from 14 in the first half.
Kerry suffered the ignominy of Brian Kelly knocking one kick-out over his own end-line for a '45 and had another penalised for not going the required 13 metres. When it went longer, invariably Tom Parsons, Boyle or Kevin McLoughlin were on hand to scoop it up and take it away. Parsons was immense throughout.
All the time Kerry were showing high levels of cynicism to halt Mayo runners at source. The first quarter wasn't complete when the free count was 12-4 in Mayo's favour. But by then Mayo were already edging clear with some authority, 0-6 to 0-4 ahead.
Kerry's decision to play Paul Murphy in a sweeping role for the first half will be the focus of much revision in Kerry this week and beyond.
The bigger picture though will focus on where Kerry find themselves with this team that has been carefully nurtured over the last two years.
The county is teeming with underage talent but finding the right formula, especially in defence, is particularly difficult.
Mark Griffin was one of four players omitted from the drawn game but in his absence the Kerry full-back line was only slightly more secure with Shane Enright again struggling on Andy Moran despite the protection.
Moran finished with just 1-1 this time but his hand was over so much and the sight of him turning inside Enright so often gave Mayo real impetus.
Making his 71st championship appearance, Moran's Indian summer continues and he looks as sharp and agile as he has done in 14-year career.
Kerry got themselves into a defensive flux. In addition to Murphy's role, there was the addition of Tom O'Sullivan, only the second U-21 player Eamonn Fitzmaurice has started in 26 championship games. But Murphy dropping back allowed Mayo to erect stronger ramparts around Donaghy.
After his risky deployment of Aidan O'Shea at full-back on Donaghy the last day, Mayo largely went for that tactic again, this time with much more success though the collaborative effort around O'Shea made a big difference.
Donaghy still set up four scores and helped to create two goal chances but his contribution was more limited.
Rochford felt the slings and arrows in his direction over O'Shea's placement the last day but wasn't looking for retribution now against his critics.
"I don't do things with this team to seek outside approval - or disapproval for that matter," he said. "I didn't lose any sleep about it. We are aware that if we don't deliver in three weeks' time there will be another headline coming but so be it."
Diarmuid O'Connor's cleverly punched goal had given them a first-half cushion, 1-8 to 0-6, and Moran's goal on 38 minutes provided the biggest chink of daylight. After that it was matter of locking it down.
They became just as cynical as Kerry had been as the game degenerated into a messy affair but they got a big contribution off their bench, especially from Conor Loftus who had a hand in the second goal and scored two points.
Cillian O'Connor was black-carded for taking down Stephen O'Brien in the 50th minute, not long after O'Connor had been central to Darran O'Sullivan being wrongly black-carded.
By the end 18 cards had been shown, three red, two black and 13 yellow cards (eight for Kerry) with Peter Crowley and Patrick Durcan picking up double yellows and Donaghy a straight red for lashing out at O'Shea, possibly his last act in an inter-county game.
It was that type of frustrating afternoon for Kerry as they succumbed to the precision and aggression of the most relentless group of men in Irish sport.
SCORERS - Mayo: C O'Connor 0-6 (6f), J Doherty (1f, 1 '45) 0-3, A Moran 1-1, D O'Connor 1-0, C Loftus, K McLoughlin 0-2 each, C Barrett, P Durcan 0-1 each. Kerry: P Geaney 0-10 (8f), J O'Donoghue 0-3 (1f), J Lyne, J Buckley, J Barry, F Fitzgerald all 0-1 each.
MAYO - D Clarke; C Barrett, A O'Shea, D Vaughan; B Harrison, K Higgins, C Boyle; L Keegan, T Parsons; D O'Connor, S O'Shea, K McLoughlin; A Moran, C O'Connor, J Doherty. Subs: P Durcan for Vaughan (35+2), C Loftus for D O'Connor (h-t), C O'Shea for C O'Connor BC (51), S Coen for S O'Shea (61), D Kirby for Boyle (69), G Cafferkey for Barrett (74).
KERRY - B Kelly; S Enright, T Morley K Young; P Crowley, P Murphy, T O'Sullivan; D Moran, J Barry; D Walsh, J Buckley, J Lyne; P Geaney, K Donaghy, S O'Brien. Subs: J O'Donoghue for Walsh (h-t), D O'Sullivan for Buckley (h-t), F Fitzgerald for Enright (39), J Savage for O'Sullivan (BC, 45), M Griffin for Young (51), BJ Keane for T O'Sullivan (63), A Maher for Barry (blood, 66).
Ref - D Gough (Meath)