Saturday 24 February 2018

Some tweaks needed to clear the final hurdle and claim Sam

Kieran Donaghy connects with the head of Aidan O’Shea in an incident which saw the Kerryman sent off. Photo: James Crombie/INPHO
Kieran Donaghy connects with the head of Aidan O’Shea in an incident which saw the Kerryman sent off. Photo: James Crombie/INPHO

Joe Brolly

Mayo finally got fed up with heroic defeats in replays. The most entertaining team in Irish sport over the last decade didn't bring Kerry back into the game yesterday. Some time after last Sunday's match, they clicked that they were a better team than Kerry. Yesterday, they played with conviction throughout, so they won easily.

They started by annihilating the Kerry kick-out, something they have only done in patches against other opponents during the summer. Their forwards pushed up tightly on the Kerry backs, forcing the Kerry keeper either to take kamikaze short kick-outs or belt them long. The Kerry kick-outs were a spectator sport in themselves. Their first six long kick-outs were won by Mayo. After the fourth of those, Kelly did something I have never seen before. He kicked one out over his own end line.

The net result of this Mayo full-court press was that Kerry were quickly hemmed in. Mayo's defenders galloped forward in waves, and Kerry duly collapsed. Tony McEntee's fingerprints are all over the attacking game-plan. The ambitious, accurate foot-passing, slightly delayed to pick up the forward's second run. So Andy Moran or Cillian O'Connor signal right, then take a few strides, before switching direction. It is at that point the kick-pass is delivered. The Mayo half-forwards, midfield and half-backs know this is happening and having held themselves back to ensure the inside forwards have plenty of space in the scoring area, time their runs perfectly off the shoulder. Yesterday, this part of their game was immensely impressive.

Better still, the finishing was crisp and definite. For the second killer goal, Loftus, who looked at home, delivered a defence-splitting 30-yard diagonal ball to Moran who fielded it perfectly, then exchanged a one-two with O'Connor before palming it to the empty net. This goal summed up their cohesion.

Kerry had 35-per-cent possession in the first half, and were always hanging on. This allowed Aidan O'Shea to push up into midfield regularly, which increased their vice grip in this area. David Moran toiled vainly to shovel out the tide. Paul Geaney performed some minor miracles. Paul Murphy was excellent as always, and James O'Donoghue was inventive when he came in, but the difference was stark. Mayo played cohesively and with great conviction. Kerry were reduced to ad hoc individual effort. In the end, they panicked, lost their discipline, and went out of the championship screaming and kicking. Star's last act on a football field was to poleaxe Aidan O'Shea with a straight right to the face. What a turnaround in seven days.

Kerry tried a sweeper, then abandoned it when Mayo's accurate kick-passing and the lines of their running made him redundant. They switched men about, brought men off and others on but it was all in vain. Because Mayo were playing with belief and ferocity. On two occasions in the second half Kerry threatened to score a goal and the Mayo men descended on the square like starving hyenas.

Clarke's kickouts were brilliant, 100-per-cent success rate in the first half and just one turnover in the second, which exemplified their self-assurance. Likewise when Cillian O'Connor was black-carded, Jason Doherty took over as the free-taker, kicking two superb scores from two efforts.

Stephen Rochford was interviewed afterwards and all one can say is he would hold up well under interrogation, reminding me of Eric Morcombe's classic line that he was using all the right words, not necessarily in the right order. In RTÉ, we gave Colm Boyle man of the match, a decision that was made easier because for once, he was kept on. When he was substituted, exhausted, in the 68th minute, he got the loudest roar of the day. It was another thrilling performance from this amazing man.

Some tweaks are needed for the next day. Lee Keegan played for himself yesterday, taking four silly potshots and soloing with his head down. At one stage in the 61st minute, he soloed down the left wing. Because his head was down and he was looking only for his own score, he did not see Boyle sprinting through the middle entirely unmarked. If he had given it, the final score would have been humiliating. It is difficult to see what is going on when you are looking at the ground. Lee must play for the team, as this sort of thing will not wash in three weeks' time.

So, a great performance by Mayo, delivered with conviction. Crucially, this was a replay victory, something that this Mayo team has never done. A team that was dreadful and going nowhere three months ago, is once again on the verge of winning an All-Ireland. Time to get off the verge.

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