Mayo 1-7 Kerry 0-10
All-Ireland Minor Football Semi-Final
Those of us who made the trip to Croke Park this afternoon for our minors’ All-Ireland semi-final with Kerry were made to feel what life was like in Kenny Egan’s corner in Beijing this morning. Referee Martin Higgins from Fermanagh gave two late frees to Kerry for incidents which replays showed were nowhere near fouls and the resultant points meant that Kerry’s young royals were granted an undeserved second bite of the cherry. It wasn’t all the ref’s fault, I know, as our total of thirteen wides proved and it’s certainly the case that we should have won the match with more than a bit to spare. Still, it’s galling in the extreme to see frees being given for challenges that were perfectly legal and it’s even more so that those decisions robbed us of victory. If we get a half-decent ref in the replay, there’s no reason that we can’t finish the job then, I suppose, but we should have done so today when the chance was there for us to do it.
I’m not going to do a match report – for those of you who didn’t catch it live, here’s RTE’s – but instead it’s worthwhile reflecting a little on those lads who shone for us today. Chief among them was full-back Kevin Keane (whom Ted told us to watch out for in advance) who kept Kerry’s star forward Barry John Tim Pat Mickey Joe Paudi Sean Walsh scoreless from play. The young Westport man’s positional play was flawless and he never gave Walsh a chance to shine. We could, in a short while, have at last found a worthy successor to Kevin Cahill for that troublesome no.3 jersey on the senior team. David Dolan at right-corner back was also excellent, with his marker Cian Tobin getting called ashore well before the end. Aghamore’s Cathal Freeman was always in the thick of it and thumped over an excellent point from play early in the second half but four failed attempts to follow up on this score partly negated an otherwise encouraging display at wing-back.
Around the middle, James Cafferty, Aidan O’Shea and, in the first half, Alex Corduff did well, though the latter ended up being taken off in the second period after proving an effective target man for much of the first half. O’Shea looks an even better prospect than his older brother and he battled on well for the full hour. Knockmore’s Sean McHale smartly goaled his first-half chance and Ballintubber’s Raymond Geraghty and full-forward Gerard McDonagh from Castlebar showed well in patches too. In the end, Ray Dempsey’s prediction in advance of the game – that our lack of scoring forwards could weigh on our chances – was proved correct, as we created more than enough opportunities to run up a winning score but were unable to convert most of those chances. Kerry, in contrast, survived on bits and pieces, not to mention the munificence of that bollix with the whistle from Fermanagh.
So, a replay it is and with the senior match also ending in a draw, I suppose we could all be back at HQ (or Limerick? or Thurles?) next Saturday for a repeat of both matches. After our match was drawn, we were discussing the possibility of it being replayed in Ennis which would have suited us but it now looks likely that we’ll have to double up with the seniors again at a larger venue, thus ensuring that Kerry will, like today, enjoy more support than our lads will.
We had good vocal support there today but Kerry also brought a decent enough following with them even if the sub-40,000 crowd was still poor enough for an All-Ireland semi-final. I’ve far less to say about the senior match, for the simple reason that I left before the end. I’d found the second half utterly painful to watch, with Cork a pathetic rabble who were totally incapable of taking the game to Kerry. Aidan O’Mahony’s disgraceful play-acting to get Donncha O’Connor sent off epitomised a mean-minded, nasty contest that was bereft of any skill on either side. When Eoin Brosnan sauntered through with ten minutes to go for an illegally-executed point, taken with the open hand – even the fucking programme (page 61) states clearly that this isn’t allowed – I turned to The Brother and said “I’m done here if you are”. He agreed and so we high-tailed it out in the company of more than a few Corkmen and a few of the Kerry crowd who were convinced – as I was too, I must admit – that the match was well over as a contest.
The roars that erupted from the stadium as we made our way along Clonliffe Road a few minutes later hinted that something was afoot. It wasn’t, however, until we were overtaken by a few Corkmen who were bolting towards Meagher’s pub, and who breathlessly informed us that Cork had scored two late goals, that we realised we’d just missed the comeback of the decade. At least we had the excuse that we were neutrals but the Cork lads were understandably embarrassed at having abandoned their team before the fun had started in earnest inside.
Having seen it all since on the box, I’m still stunned they pulled it off, as their performance up till then was the most inept Croke Park display I’d seen since … well, since the performance from that bollix of a referee in the minor game and, before that, Cork’s display in last year’s All-Ireland final. Kerry should still win the replay but this year’s championship has been anything but predictable up till now and so it’d be unwise to rule out another shock next weekend. Our minors should win next weekend too and if they do, it won’t, after today’s stirring performance, be regarded as any kind of surprise result.