Shrewd kerry learned more from drawn encounter
MAYO bowed out of the All-Ireland championship when losing to Kerry after extra time in the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick, on Saturday night, but not before they again put in a tremendous effort in a gripping encounter that had many twists and turns.
It was also a defeat for Mayo that signaled the end of manager James Horan’s four-year reign in charge of the county team.
When these two epic games are discussed and analysed in the days and weeks ahead, the general opinion, especially among the Mayo supporters, is that this semi-final was lost in Croke Park in the first encounter.
On that occasion Mayo got their tactics wrong in the opening half by playing a defensive system. It was only after they were reduced to 14 players that they started employing the attacking policy for which they were renowned and which served them well over the past number of years.
They had Kerry on the ropes and only for they ran out of steam in the closing moments would surely have won.
But in the six-day turnaround to the replay it was Kerry who learned most from the drawn game and were the better team on Saturday evening. Their backs were a lot more focused and tenacious, led brilliantly by the likes of Aidan O’Mahony and Peter Crowley. They won the crucial midfield battle hands down and putting big Kieran Donaghy at the edge of the square from the start paid off handsomely.
Yet Mayo, who played second fiddle to Kerry for long periods, could have still won this game. They scored crucial goals at different stages and every time Kerry seemed to be getting the upper hand, their magnificent never say-die-attitude and powerful resilience kept them right in the game. Certainly the Mayo players, for the second time inside a week, left nothing on the field of play.
This panel of Mayo players has put in some effort over the past three or four years and given the county supporters many, many great days out. But these efforts haven’t received their just rewards yet.
However, while acknowledging that Kerry were the better side in the replay, they certainly got the rub of the green and in my opinion were helped greatly by some of the refereeing decisions that went their way.
I am not in the habit of blaming a referee for losing a game. But on this occasion I think some of Cormac Reilly’s decisions were completely wrong and most of the crucial ones went against Mayo. The first of these decisions came as early as the 17th minute when Kerry corner back Shane Enright hauled down Cillian O’Connor for Mayo’s first penalty. Enright was on a yellow card at that stage and by the letter of the law should have been shown a black card. A yellow followed by a black card leads automatically to a red and you can’t bring on a player. So Kerry should have been reduced to 14 players.
The next big call was the penalty awarded against Ger Cafferkey. Cafferkey definitely got his toe to the ball first and video evidence proved this. It was no penalty. The first Kerry goal showed that James O’Donohue pushed Keith Higgins out of the way before shooting. It should have been disallowed.
On top of this, Kerry were awarded two or three frees which resulted in points and should never have been given.
The match official let Kerry players off with a number of other indiscretions, including a few black cards. How Donnchadh Walsh was allowed to stay on the field was certainly one such case.
However, besides all that, Kerry played very well and had a game plan which worked. They also had a telling bench which proved too hot for Mayo to handle in extra time.
Mayo, on the other hand, played in fits and starts. After a poor opening 16 minutes where they were a little lucky to be only a point down, they hit a purple patch by scoring an unanswered 2-2, all scored by Cillian O’Connor to put them into a seven-point lead. But Kerry wheeled them back in and Mayo only went in at the break leading by a goal after playing with a strong breeze.
In the second half it was a ding-dong affair, with both sides leading at different times and both teams looking to have gained the upper-hand at different stages. However, a late surge saw Mayo claw back a two-point deficit and in the final play they almost snatched victory with Rob Hennelly’s brilliant long free which just dropped short.
In extra time Mayo got a perfect start by scoring two points in the first two minutes. However, they failed to register another score in the remaining 18 minutes and thus bowed out of the championship.
Now it is hoped that these great players, after they have had time to reflect and give their bodies a badly needed rest, will bounce back and make another bold bid for Sam next year. With a new man at the helm and a new voice in the dressing room they just might finally get over the finishing line next year and win the biggest prize in Gaelic football, which they richly deserve.