Wednesday 17 January 2018

Mayo's bravery on display as doubters run for cover

Kieran Donaghy, Kerry, fields a high ball
Kieran Donaghy, Kerry, fields a high ball
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

There are no cowards on this Mayo team. Let no man question Mayo's bravery now. In the end Mayo's second-half fightback was not enough to win the match but their team won over the doubters and the whole of neutral Ireland. I'm so proud too of my own county. Our boys fought back in the old Kerry way by playing with head, heart and the high catch.

There was more drama here than in the whole of the Autumn Schedule. Both sides sent for the monumental sculptor and cancelled the trophy engraver and changed their minds all over again.

Kerry had a last-minute free to win the game. Mayo thought they were safe enough fouling in such a far-out part of the field but Bryan Sheehan has the longest kick in the game.

Bryan went in to his careful preparation. The placing of the ball on a tuft no more than the height of a small but stiff quiff, the fitting of the instep for size, the looking up at the posts just to check they were still in the same place and the deep breath that brings oxygenated clarity to the brain. The Kerry in us wished his kick over the Mayo bar but the sportsman in us was hoping for a draw.

Sheehan struck his kick oh so sweetly but even he couldn't get the distance. The referee blew up. Justice was done. The replay will be in Limerick on Saturday next and the Gaelic Grounds will be sold-out.

There are only three ways to get past a wall. The first is to go underneath, but shovels are not allowed in Gaelic football. You can try to ram straight through but the wall usually wins unless alone your name is Harry Potter. There will be young boys and girls raiding orchards this evening and they will tell you: the best way is go over the wall. Maybe the small boy in Eamonn Fitzmaurice paid a subconscious visit.

He brought on Kieran Donaghy, The Star, with only minutes to go. We met up with Kieran a few weeks ago and he told us that he was injury-free for the first time in nearly four years. "I'm flying. I can't wait to get out on the field."

Donaghy's sky-high catch for James O'Donoghue's goal kept Kerry in it when the headstone sculptor was sharpening his chisel. There was another leap for a point made, and then Kieran won a crucial midfield ball. Lately, Joe Brolly wondered why Donaghy's nickname is The Star. Now you know, Joe.

In the first half David Moran cut across the ball twice for massive long-range points. He has overcome a double cruciate to get back to the highest level. Mayo were turned over more often than the turf in a wet year. Anthony Maher won his battles and it looked as if the endless autumn sorrow of the Gaelic football equivalent of the Children of Lir would continue.

The sending-off was controversial. Lee Keegan kicked out like a man who was trying out a new step in the Mayo Set. There was no danger to life or limb but technically it was a red card. Still, it was one of those incidents that can go either way and either decision can be justified. You'd feel a bit sorry for Lee and Mayo.

It looked as if Mayo were finished but from half-time on they attacked and the Kingdom went from four up to four down in the kind of rapid reversal of fortunes known only to broke property developers.

Aidan O' Shea drove on relentlessly, shrugging off tackles like as if they were no more than the mild irritations of a whizz of tickly flies. Cillian O'Connor hit the roof of the net from his penalty and kicked points from all over Croke Park.

Andy Moran was as cool as if he was kicking the ball about with a few young lads in the local field. We counted to see if the man of the west had 20 on the field.

Kerry fought back with James O'Donoghue's late goal but it looked as if we would be outdone by a soft fall and a soft free.

If there was a forger in the crowd, he would surely have chanced a 50 on the ref. Dave Coldrick was excellent though in that he let the game flow in the second half. No other referee has a better feel for tempo in the torrent.

So now in the lee of a soft autumn evening, the bravest of the west and south-west will think of what might have been and what will be. Our players need have no regrets.

Kerry and Mayo gave us all we could ask for and more on a day when Gaelic football, for the first time this year, cried out all that is brave and fair.

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