I will, please God, turn 55 later this year. I’m ashamed to say that it wasn’t until this evening that I first attended a Gaelic football match in Kerry. I’ve followed Mayo far and wide down the years but somehow, before tonight, I never managed to make it to see us playing in the Kingdom.
Tonight’s enthralling NFL Division One encounter at Austin Stack Park in Tralee was, then, a good one on which to add Kerry to the list of football-related trips. One that involved plenty of mileage (not yet completed – I’m tapping this out on the laptop in the car on the way back to Dublin, Rob Murphy at the wheel), some really good food (at the superb Allo’s pub restaurant in Listowel) and a cracking seventy minutes of football.
The ground was well packed and nicely humming when the ball was thrown in at Austin Stack Park this evening. We didn’t ever bother to try to get seats in the stand and instead went over to the terrace on the far side where we took up station bang on half-way.
Kerry started like an express train. It was their young lads to the fore too, with debutants Jack Barry and Adrian Spillane, as well as Tadhg Morley, Jack Savage and Conor Keane (who lined out at corner-forward instead of James O’Donoghue) all featuring prominently early on.
Barry pointed almost right from the throw-in to give Kerry the lead. Two more scores followed rapidly, one from play by Savage and a Paul Geaney free as the home side raced three clear.
A nice point from play by Tom Parsons got us going. It didn’t settle us, though, as a sweeping Kerry move ended with Spillane thundering a shot off the crossbar. At the other end, Andy Moran (who’d lined out instead of Alan Freeman, with Conor O’Shea replacing Evan Regan in our starting fifteen as well) dragged a shot wide.
Cillian O’Connor and Geaney traded frees but it was all Kerry in this opening period. They got the chance to push clear when we conceded a penalty for a jersey pull on Spillane. The Templenoe youngster still got his shot away, an effort superbly stopped by David Clarke and the All-Star keeper got down brilliantly to parry away David Moran’s spot-kick.
Another Cillian free cut the gap to a point. Paul Geaney departed the scene at this stage, Barry John Keane – not a bad replacement, you’d have to say – coming on for the Dingle man. Keane pointed soon after his introduction and Paul Murphy notched the next score to restore the Kingdom’s three-point advantage.
We made our first switch at this stage, Eoin O’Donoghue making his senior debut as he came on for David Drake. Old hand Andy Moran swung over a delicious score from way out on the right to welcome the young Belmullet man on stage.
Kerry then moved to take what looked like a decisive grip on the game. A second Barry point was followed by a goal scored by Barry John Keane. This came from a free in, with the ball hanging in the square, David Clarke coming to claim it but failing to do so, the ball squirting loose and Keane gathering it and thumping it to the net.
Six down now and off the pace all over the pitch, a sobering result was staring us square in the face. Kerry looked fresher, far better drilled and operating at a different pitch to us. It looked, to be honest, that we were in for a right thumping at that stage.
To the lads’ credit, though, from then until half-time we steadied the ship a bit. Kerry didn’t add to their total before the break as two more frees from Cillian cut the gap to four.
All the same, at half-time it didn’t look like we were in any fit state to get a result from this game. We’d struggled to contain Kerry’s high-tempo style and our ploy of leaving Andy Moran on his own upfront didn’t look like one designed to run up a winning score. Andy did, though, have the beating of Mark Griffin and he would continue to cause mayhem in the Kerry backline right to the game’s end.
The platform for our second half fightback came in our rejigged line-up at the restart. Stephen Coen – who I thought played really well tonight – moved up to midfield to join Tom Parsons, who was having a right old ding-dong with David Moran. Donal Vaughan, who’d struggled to make an impact at midfield, moved to wing-back and Paddy Durcan shifted up to the other wing, with Eoin O’Donoghue moving back to the corner.
Right from the moment the ball was thrown in we were a different proposition. We should have had a goal from our first attack but Conor O’Shea eschewed the opportunity to pull the trigger with his right, turning inside instead and firing over off his left. A Cillian free – his fifth of the evening – cut the gap to two.
Barry John Keane thumped over a quality score for them but, though we didn’t know it then, that was as good as it would get for Kerry this evening. It put them three up once more but after that score we began to turn the screw and the game’s narrative started to alter with decisive effect.
It began with a lovely flowing move, Fergal Boland wrapped up in there in the middle of it making it happen and Kevin McLoughlin firing over. The exciting young Aghamore prospect was withdrawn soon after – most likely given the tough Sigerson Cup shift he’d put in on Thursday – with Diarmuid O’Connor coming on to replace him.
Two more Cillian frees and now, suddenly, we were level and starting to mean business. Shane Nally came on to replace Donal Vaughan and his contribution to the win we were now fashioning was quietly telling.
Kerry got their noses back in front, another Barry John Keane score. Andy cancelled that one out but young Conor Geaney – a cousin of the other two, a Kerryman in front of me confided – whipped over a delicious point for them to edge them ahead for the final time.
Jonathan Lyne went on a black card for a drag down as we poured forward, Cillian pointing the free to level it up. Surveying the pitch now, what was striking was the gulf in experience between the two teams slugging it out. What was beyond dispute was that we now had a decisive upper hand in that department but what still remained to be resolved was whether or not we could bring this to bear to seal a dramatic comeback win.
We had and we did. Andy Moran, using all his guile and experience, wriggled into a scoring position and fisted over to put us ahead for the first time in the game. Two further black cards followed in quick succession, Foley’s departure for them cutting them to fourteen, while sub Evan Regan made an early exit for us.
A final Cillian free pushed us two clear. Into stoppage time and now only a goal would save it for what was now a totally spooked home side. A shemozzle broke out on the stand side, following which Tom Parsons walked on a straight red and then it was all over.
That last-minute sour note aside (Tom will definitely miss the Roscommon game and could also miss the Dublin one if he gets hit with a two-game ban), this was a hugely uplifting win. We’d been thoroughly outplayed in the first half, by the end of which the result could well have been beyond us but our increased workrate after the break was hugely impressive and yielded what could yet prove a very important win for us.
Last week, when the game was there to be won we showed ourselves incapable of applying ourselves to the task of doing this. Tonight, away from home against Kerry, the lads stepped up to the mark when the opportunity to claim the win presented itself and it was truly uplifting to see them do it.
Several players stood out for us tonight. David Clarke showed, yet again, why he’s the best goalkeeper in the country. Donie Newcombe had another fine evening at corner-back, while Eoin O’Donoghue slotted in nicely in the other corner after he came on. Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle and Paddy Durcan all played prominent parts in driving us forward in the second half. Shane Nally slotted in well too when he came on.
Tom Parsons put in a really big shift at midfield and Stephen Coen added further to an encouraging start to the year by first performing well at centre-back and then filling in nicely at midfield after the break.
Fergal Boland provided a few more flashes of brilliance in attack, where Cillian O’Connor really came into his own at centre-forward after the break. Diarmuid O’Connor made a number of decisive contributions to the cause after he came on.
But it was Andy Moran who stole the show. A constant menace, still buzzing round the place furiously deep in stoppage time, Andy almost had the beating of the entire Kerry backline on his own. His performance alone was worth all today’s mileage.
So, after last Saturday evening’s unexpected setback against Monaghan, we’ve now righted the ship with, frankly, an equally unexpected win down south. Next up it’s a home fixture against the Rossies, a game that gives us the opportunity of getting another win under our belts before renewing acquaintances with Dublin the week after.
One game at a time, though – MacHale Park has been anything but a fortress for us of late so no better a test than Roscommon to help us put that one to rights. Tonight’s great comeback win should send us into that one – bolstered too by the return to the panel of Lee Keegan and Kevin Keane – in the right frame of mind. Yes, it’s starting to feel like our League campaign is starting to crank into gear.
Mayo: David Clarke; Donie Newcombe, Keith Higgins, Paddy Durcan; Colm Boyle, Stephen Coen, David Drake; Donal Vaughan, Tom Parsons (0-1); Fergal Boland, Kevin McLoughlin (0-1), Jason Doherty; Conor O’Shea (0-1), Cillian O’Connor (0-9, frees), Andy Moran (0-3). Subs: Eoin O’Donoghue for Drake, Diarmuid O’Connor for Boland, Shane Nally for Vaughan, Evan Regan for Doherty, Michael Plunkett for Regan (black card), Danny Kirby for O’Shea.
Post-match audio report is here and the Man of the Match poll is now up as well.
Who was our MOTM against Kerry?
- Andy Moran (57%, 390 Votes)
- David Clarke (18%, 126 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (6%, 39 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (5%, 36 Votes)
- Donie Newcombe (3%, 24 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (2%, 12 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (1%, 9 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (1%, 9 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 8 Votes)
- Eoin O'Donoghue (1%, 8 Votes)
- Shane Nally (1%, 7 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (1%, 6 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (1%, 5 Votes)
- Danny Kirby (0%, 3 Votes)
- Evan Regan (0%, 2 Votes)
- David Drake (0%, 2 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (0%, 2 Votes)
- Evan Regan (0%, 1 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (0%, 0 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (0%, 0 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 689