Cillian O'Connor - hit 1-8 today. Photo: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

Heroic mayo still on course for the final

Heroic Mayo are still on course to reach a third consecutive All-Ireland SFC final despite losing a five-point lead against Kerry in today’s pulsating semi-final clash at Croke Park. An injury-time equalising point by James O’Leary ensured the two counties must meet again in Limerick next Saturday at 5 p.m. in a replay.

Kerry missed the chance to seal victory in the dying moments when substitute Brian Sheehan’s long-range free kick dropped short of the target as the referee blew the final whistle, the game ending Mayo 1-16, Kerry 1-16.

But the big story of the match was Mayo’s heroic second-half recovery despite being reduced to 14 players with the sending off of defender Lee Keegan six minutes before half time.

Inspired by the shooting accuracy of Cillian O’Connor – who registered 1-8 – and the battling qualities of Aidan O’Shea the Connaught champions turned a four-point deficit into a five-point lead by the 63rd minute, a converted penalty kick on the hour by O’Connor giving Mayo the edge. However, Kerry matched Mayo for character and steel in the closing stages with substitute Kieran Donaghy playing a key role in setting up a James O’Donoghue goal before O’Leary’s equalising point.

Mayo had trailed by 0-9 to 0-5 at half-time but the tale was contained in other statistics, most notably the red-carding of Keegan for kicking out at Kerry’s Johnny Buckley. Another worrying statistic at that point was Mayo’s failure to score for a duration of 17 minutes while registering six wides and only enjoying 42 per cent of possession against a very spirited Kerry defence that succeeded in isolating O’Connor and Alan Freeman.

In fact, a missed goal scoring opportunity by O’Connor in the ninth minute appeared to undermine Mayo’s attacking confidence.

Speaking afterwards, Mayo manager James Horan praised his charges for their magnificent second half performance. Although disappointed that they failed to win the game he said they could just as easily have lost it due to Sheehan’s late, late scoring opportunity.

Mayo: R. Hennelly, T. Cunniffe, G. Cafferkey, K. Higgins, .L Keegan (0-1), D. Vaughan, C. Boyle (0-1), J. Gibbons, S. O'Shea, K. McLoughlin, A. O'Shea, J. Doherty (0-1), C. O'Connor (1-8), A. Freeman, A. Dillon (0-3).

Subs used: T. Parsons for Gibbons, A. Moran (0-2) for Freeman, M. Conroy for Doherty, M. Sweeney for Dillon, K. Keane for Cafferkey.

Kerry: B. Kelly, M. O Se, A. O’Mahony, S. Enright, P. Murphy (0-1), P. Crowley (0-1), F. Fitzgerald (0-1), A. Maher, D. Moran (0-2), M. Geaney (0-1), J. Buckley (0-1), D. Walsh (0-2), S. O’Brien (0-1), P. Geaney (0-1, f), J. O’Donoghue (1-3).

Subs used: D. O’Sullivan for O’Brien, B. Sheehan (0-1) for M. Geaney, K. Young for O’Mahony, K. Donaghy for Maher, BJ Keane for Buckley, K. O’Leary (0-1) for Walsh.

Referee: D. Coldrick (Meath).