THE sizeable number of Mayo fans in a crowd of around 55,000 went home happy after an incredible victory over Kerry in the All-Ireland SFC semi-final replay.
Mayo were full value for their 2-16 to 0-17 win, taking the game to Kerry right from the start and keeping the Kingdom at arm's length after they opened up a commanding lead early in the second half.
Mayo dominated from the throw-in. Kerry only once held the lead when, soon after the 10th minute, Johnny Buckley scored a point from play to make it 0-4 to 0-3. That was their third in a row but it was as good as it got for the Munster champions as Mayo punished them time and again.
By the break Mayo enjoyed a five-point lead, the goal coming on 27 minutes when Diarmuid O'Connor capitalised on hesitancy by Kerry 'keeper Brian Kelly to fist a Donal Vaughan delivery to the net.
Kerry missed a goal chance of their own immediately afterwards and Chris Barrett punished them with another point before Paul Geaney landed his third free, and fourth point overall, of the half, leaving it 1-8 to 0-6 at half-time.
The Kingdom made changes to try turn things around for the second half, bringing on James O'Donoghue and Darran O'Sullivan at the break. Both were to have an influence, O'Donoghue in a positive way from an attacking point of view but O'Sullivan in a negative way as he was quickly shown a black card, much to his obvious annoyance.
It was Mayo's half-time substitute, Conor Loftus, who played a big part in the winning of the game, however, as his superb ball into Andy Moran early in the second half led to the second goal. After gaining possession, Moran played a quick one-two with Cillian O'Connor, palming the return to the net to open up a 2-9 to 0-7 lead.
There was always the danger that Kerry would eat into that lead with practically all of the second half to play but the closest they got was four points with 10 minutes to go (0-14 to 2-12), Mayo doing a great job of maintaining their lead.
There was an almighty scramble at one stage as Colm Boyle and goalkeeper David Clarke denied Stephen O'Brien, while Boyle – named man of the match after a typically tigerish display – also denied Paul Geaney on the goal line.
Cillian O'Connor sacrificed his own game for the good of the team with a 'professional' foul on 51 minutes as Kerry threatened to break quickly, but it didn't derail Mayo. Jason Doherty took over free-taking duties, landing two in the closing stages, helping Mayo stay clear of Kerry, despite Paul Geaney landing free after free. Crucially, Mayo didn't give Kerry clear-cut chances on goal, so the lead couldn't be cut dramatically.
Kerry's hopes weren't helped when Peter Crowley was shown a second yellow for a foul on Colm Boyle, and while Mayo were reduced to 14 players also late on when Paddy Durcan got a second yellow card, Kerry's frustration was complete when Kieran Donaghy – not the central figure today that he was six days ago – was sent off for punching Aidan O'Shea.
In the end it was a clear and deserved victory for Mayo, who got the tactics spot-on. O'Shea didn't pick up Donaghy immediately and when he did mark him, it didn't detract from his own game.
That was the secret today – Mayo played the game on their terms. Kerry's nervousness about the defence was obvious from the decision to play a sweeper, but it backfired as they allowed Mayo dominance around the middle.
If they can play the final on their own terms, regardless of who they face, it may just result in a Mayo win. We can hope anyway. We can always hope.
Mayo: D. Clarke; B. Harrison, D. Vaughan, K. Higgins; L. Keegan, C. Barrett (0-1), C. Boyle; S. O'Shea, T. Parsons; K. McLoughlin (0-2), A. O'Shea, D. O'Connor (1-0); J. Doherty (0-3, 2f), C. O'Connor (0-6f), A. Moran (1-1).
Subs used: P. Durcan (0-1), C. Loftus (0-2), C. O'Shea, S. Coen, D. Kirby, G. Cafferkey.
Kerry: B. Kelly; S. Enright, J. Lyne (0-1), C. Young; P. Crowley, T. Morley, P. Murphy; D. Moran, J. Barry (0-1); S. O'Brien, J. Buckley (0-1), D. Walsh; P. Geaney (0-10, 8f), K. Donaghy, T. O'Sullivan.
Subs used: J. O'Donoghue (0-3, 1f), D. O'Sullivan, F. Fitzgerald (0-1), J. Savage, M. Griffin, B.J. Keane, A. Maher (blood sub).
Referee: David Gough (Meath).