Mayo’s chances against Kerry in the semi-final on Sunday were reflected in the poor turnout as the faith in this current side began to wane following some less than convincing performances.
But those who did go to headquarters were rewarded with a heart-warming display of undying sprit and courage as Mayo came from behind on two occasions, five adrift at one point in the second half, to break down the league final door just when Kerry’s place in the final appeared guaranteed.
It was a topsy turvy match full of deep ravines and corkscrew bends, a rollercoaster of a ride at times but nothing could have prepared us for the drama in 20 minutes of extra-time as Jack O’Connor’s men saw another lead slip from their grasp as memories of last year’s All-Ireland final meeting with Dublin came back to haunt them.
We never believed Kerry were invincible, nor did we expect Mayo to turnover the Munster men, particularly when the news broke on Saturday morning that Mayo’s top midfielder, Aiden O’Shea, would not be taking any part in the action.
But Mayo, as they had done in Tralee a week earlier in the final round of the league, hit the ground running and took up their man-marking tasks with due diligence and efficiency, the backs playing brilliantly, and they were worthy winners in the end against a Kerry side who made some untypical errors in terms of turnovers and a handful of dreadful mistakes.
Mind you, it took a piece of individual courage from Richie Feeney to pop the winner in a game that seemed destined for a replay as Bryan Sheehan stepped up for a ’45 to level the game in injury time of extra-time. For once, Sheehan read the radar wrong and Mayo’s place in the final was secured.
However the turning point of this game came five minutes into the second period of extra-time when Colm Boyle somehow squeezed the ball past a posse of flailing Kerry backs and into the net.
From being three down (1-17 to 1-14) Mayo were level and Feeney’s sweet strike had the Kerry, and indeed Mayo, supporters, a little dazed.
But there was more drama towards the end of normal time as Kerry appeared to have again taken a grip on the game, going four clear with nine minutes remaining.
Kieran Donaghy, who must have played in virtually every positon in this game apart from in goals, made a serious error of judgment when swinging the ball across the goalmouth where Alan Dillon, alive to the possibility it presented, was hauled down by Galvin and Pat Harte’s well-drilled spot-kick left a point between them.
Kerry were clinging on but another turnover, forced by an interception by Boyle, led to Cillian O’Connor’s free sending the game into extra-time as it finished 1-13 apiece.
Kerry lead 1-16 to 1-14 at the end of the first 10 minutes of extra-time, O’Connor with a terrific point to keep Mayo hanging on but Boyle’s goal and Feeney’s stroke saw Mayo snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Kerry once again were slow to start and found themselves 0-6 to 0-1 adrift after 13 minutes, Conor Mortimer to the fore from play and from frees, but Kerry were gradually beginning to reel Mayo in to draw level - 0-7 apiece - before Mayo kicked two clear at the interval - 0-9 to 0-7- Andy Moran and Mortimer on target.
An early point from Dillon put Mayo three ahead once more but Kerry nailed four on the bounce to hit the front for the first time thanks to a Declan O’Sullivan effort from play.
When David Clarke was beaten by James O’Donoghue to a loose ball for the Kerry goal it seemed Mayo’s league run was finally over as they trailed by five but a point from Boyle from play and a Mortimer free had it back to three again before Sheehan made it four and seemingly safe with the clock ticking down.
But there was another twist in the tale, Donaghy’s unbelievable crossfield ball to Dillon producing the penalty and in extra-time Mayo were o prove the better team.
Scorers for Mayo: C. Mortimer 0-7 (5f), C. Boyle 1-1,P. Harte (1-0, pen), C. O’Connor (1f) and A. Dillon 0-2 each, K. Higgins, R. Feeney and A. Moran 0-1 each. Scorers for Kerry: B. Sheehan 0-6 (5f) C. Cooper 0-4, (3f), J. O’Donoghue 1-0, B.J.. Keane 0-2, P. Galvin, A. Maher, D. O’Sullivan, K. O’Leary, P. Curtin 0-1 each.
Mayo: D. Clarke, K. Keane, G. Cafferkey, K. Higgins L. Keegan, D. Vaughan, C. Boyle, B. Moran, J. Gibbons, K. McLoughlin, A. Moran, A. Dillon, C. Mortimer J. Doherty, M .Conroy. Subs used: P. Harte for Doherty (33m), E. Varley for Conroy (47 m), D. Geraghty for B Moran (56m), C. O’Connor for Mortimer (69m ), R. Feeney for Gibbons (69m), A. Campbell for Harte (85m), M. Conroy for A. Dillon (80m).
Kerry: .B. Kealy; S. Enright, M Ó Sé, K. Young, P. Crowley, A. O’Mahony, B. Maguire, A. Maher, B. Sheehan, P. Galvin, D. O’Sullivan, K. Donaghy, C. Cooper, K. O’Leary, P Curtin.
Subs used: J O’Donoghue for O’Leary (42m), E. Brosnan for O’Mahony (47m), D. Walsh for Curtin (47m), B.J. Keane for Young (78m), J. Buckley for Crowley (83m).
Referee: E. Kinsella (Laois).
Man of the match
YOU could, in truth, pick any of the six defenders while up front Alan Dillon, Andy Moran and Kevin McLoughlin, and for his first half, Conor Mortimer, could be included. Throw in goalkeeper David Clarke, who made one terrific save, but Colm Boyle’s overall display of tenacity and courage, along with his amazing goal, earns him the plaudits. He captured the spirit and never-say-die attitude of this Mayo team who refused to rollover.
THE injury to Aiden O’Shea, the news of which broke on Friday morning. Mayo struggled around the middle and although the arrival of Pat Harte helped matters, it ia an area of huge concern ahead of the final against Cork.
THERE was a labyrinth of turning point in this game but ultimately the biggest score of the day, and the one that fired Mayo back into contention, came five minutes into the second period of extra-time from Colm Boyle.
Richie Feeney, who blew a chance earlier, showed great self-belief and confidence in his own ability by kicking the winner a minute from time, but Boyle was the man in Croke Park who turned this game for Mayo.
MAYO now meet Cork in the league final on Sunday week in Croke Park as part of a double-header involving Kildare and Tyrone in the division two final. They have already lost to the Rebels in an earlier round and, of course, took a hammering from them in the final of two years ago also in Croke Park.
Mayo stunned the Munster men in last year’s championship quarterfinal but it is Conor Counihan’s men who will go into the final as odds-on favourites on the back of their impressive win over Down.
Would we have it any other way?
“MONKEYS don’t interest me that much,” James Horan, dismissing ‘monkey off the back ’the importance of beating Kerry in Croke Park for the first time in 16 years.