James Horan: down but not out.

Players deserve to have names carved with pride

Rarely in modern times have I been privileged to witness a display of heroic proportions as that given by Mayo on Sunday, writes Martin Carney.

A ‘flu bug prevented me from travelling but the TV set provided compensation of sorts, although the raw emotion that one experiences at a live event is impossible to capture in the living room.

How a team that looked so tentative and unsure of itself in the opening period could transform itself into an energetic fireball in the second half was impressive, to say the least.

James Horan must take credit for orchestrating the changes in tone and approach that characterised the display after the break.

Things looked bad. A man down, a forward line finding it hard to get on the ball, never mind score, and a half-back line, by its own lofty standards, struggling to penetrate the Kerry rearguard.

Lee Keegan’s indiscretion, totally at odds with the spirit of the game, deserved a yellow card. His foul, though petulant, was not malicious.

The red card, though  justified on the basis of the GAA rule book, was harsh in the circumstances.

We all need heroes and true heroism is often found in circumstances when the scale of a problem is extreme.

Footballing wisdom informs us that being reduced to 14 men often brings out the best in a group. This manifested itself in spades last Sunday as, to a man, Mayo tackled head-on the Kerry challenge after the break in what was as memorable a contest as one could have wished to see.

Colm Boyle lit the fuse and Aidan O’Shea led the charge with a sustained period of inspirational leadership.

With the tactical handcuffs now left behind in the dressing room, Donal Vaughan began to find his mojo, Alan Dillon notched a few,  and Andy Moran provided greater thrust.

But the young man who showed wonderful character and nerves of steel was Cillian O’Connor.

Between the 36th and 63rd minutes Mayo outscored Kerry by a goal and nine points to three points, with the Ballintubber ace accounting for one goal and five points of this total.

His penalty was clinically executed, as were a succession of frees, but the spirit, the sense of liberation and the confidence that coursed through Mayo veins was special, memorable and magnificent.

This week is about recovery and refocusing on the task that lies ahead.

That I am opposed to Limerick as a venue has nothing to do with the fact that it can be regarded as Kerry’s back bedroom, but that it won’t come close to accommodating the anticipated demand for tickets.

I will leave a detailed match report to others but, in the concluding paragragh, I would like to draw on a similar experience that I once went through with Mayo in another era.

This contains a line or two of warning. In the 1985 All- Ireland semi-final against Dublin, a wonderful Mayo comeback earned a last gasp draw in front of a capacity crowd in Croke Park.

Then, as now, the replay took place a week or so later. Mayo never got their heads properly in place for the return fixture and were well beaten.

The lesson to the present generation: forget for the moment last Sunday and devote all your energies to preparing in every way possible for Saturday. That spirited display and manliness deserves one outcome only. A win. Go do it!