Going into tonight’s match against Kerry in Tralee, it was pretty obvious that we would have to have to put in a much improved display if we were going to have any hopes of getting a result. That’s exactly what we did, as the lads – attired in their snazzy new deep blue away jerseys – fought like demons from first ‘till last, coming away with a wholly deserved two-point win, a result that extends our unbeaten run on Kerry soil to a whole decade.
Both teams lined out tonight in the dreadful weather as selected. Kerry won the toss and opted to play with the strong wind at their backs in the opening half.
We started well. Kevin McLoughlin’s shot turned on the wind at the last second and went over, with the ref signalling the point after the umpire had called it wide. Soon after Matthew Ruane galloped straight down the middle of the Kerry defence without a glove being laid on him and popped it over. Then Jason Doherty drove forward, checked back and fired it over off his left.
Kerry had to work hard for their first score. The Mayo backline kept them pinned back outside the ’45 but eventually Kerry punched through, with Paul Murphy feeding the in-rushing Sean O’Shea who belted it over.
Five minutes passed before the next score came. We missed a chance to extend our lead before this when a Jason Doherty free into the wind off the ground came up short. Sean O’Shea made no mistake with a placed ball at the other end, following a high challenge by Brendan Harrison on Tommy Walsh.
Kerry were showing signs of wastefulness, though, with Dara Moynihan and Tommy Walsh, from a forward mark, shooting wide.
Michael Plunkett put a weak effort wide but from the restart we scored, with Aidan O’Shea feeding Donal Vaughan who drove forward before transferring to Kevin McLoughlin. The Knockmore man encountered the Kerry cover whereupon he booted it very high and over the bar.
At the other end, Kevin McCarthy gave Chris Barrett the slip and pointed from out on the wing. Soon after Tommy Walsh combined with Sean O’Shea, feeding the youngster who fired it over off his left to level the game up.
Five minutes more elapsed before the next score. An effort from Conor Loftus just didn’t have the distance and in the next attack a long ball in was claimed for the forward mark by Tommy Walsh who drove it over to give Kerry the lead for the first time.
The rain was bucketing down now, the driving wind adding to the difficulty of the conditions. Fionn McDonagh looked to have been fouled but the ball was turned over and it ended up with a free for them in a scoreable position. O’Shea duly obliged and from the next play McCarthy pointed to put three between the teams.
We probed patiently as Kerry sat back and soaked up the pressure. We never got within range, though, before the whistle sounded for half-time, the teams getting a small respite from the tempest with Kerry three to the good.
We were off the mark first on the resumption, with Jason Doherty scoring a point with ease from a thirty-yard free. Doc was just short with his next – a fifty – with Mattie Ruane picking up a knock in the move that led to it.
Jason’s next placed ball effort – from the same distance – also ended up in the ‘keeper’s hands, the free coming for a foul on Mattie Ruane. As the exchanges began to get a bit ragged, our next effort, from distance, was hacked wide by Mattie.
With twenty minutes left to go we made our first switch, Fergal Boland coming on for Conor Loftus. It was a Kerry sub – the other Diarmuid O’Connor – who got their first point of the half but Fionn McDonagh, fed by Fergal Boland, responded immediately for us. Aidan then won the restart, got fouled and Jason pumped the free over.
Once again, Kerry came unstuck as they tried to work the ball up the field. We turned it over and a quick attack yielded the equaliser, Fergal Boland with the fist getting this one.
We continued to press. Fionn McDonagh was bundled over as he tried to claim possession and Jason obliged from the placed ball to put us one up. Andy Moran – so often a Kerry tormentor – joined the proceedings then, James Durcan giving way.
Two bad wides followed, both from Ballintubber men. Michael Plunkett miscued from distance after the ball had been recycled and then soon after Diarmuid O’Connor skied a free wide from out on the wing after he’d been dragged down.
Kerry came looking for the equaliser, a shot at the posts blocked down by Chris Barrett and out for a fifty. Sean O’Shea drove it over impressively into the teeth of the wind. As he did so Lee Keegan came on for Donie.
We broke again, Mattie Ruane pushed sideways by his marker as he got his shot away. Jason popped over the resultant close-in free.
Kerry’s next attack broke down and when we countered we did so with effect. Kevin McLoughlin picked out the charging Mattie Ruane with an audacious forty-yard pass and the Breaffy man showed admirable coolness as he bore down on goal, slipping it past the ‘keeper on the near side to the net.
Colm Boyle then came on for Michael Plunkett. Kerry sub James O’Donoghue was fouled close to goal at our end, David Clarke getting injured in the process. After a long delay, Robbie Hennelly came on for David in goals and Sean O’Shea pointed the free to cut the gap to three as the match went into injury time, all six minutes of it.
Half of that time was played when sub James O’Donoghue grabbed possession off a free that Robbie had punched clear. He fired it over.
Kerry built again, as we swarmed around them forcing them to battle for every inch gained. Eventually they won a free fifty yards out, but O’Shea’s effort to cut the gap to the minimum floated wide. From Robbie’s booming restart we claimed possession and then proceeded to play keep-ball until Niall Cullen blew the final whistle.
This was a cracking win, all the more so because it wasn’t, in truth, expected. It was a win that owed everything to the incredibly hard-working display the lads put in, harrying and hounding their opponents from start to finish. This was particularly important when playing against the wind in the first half, all throughout which they showed admirable restraint and discipline in the tackle. This meant Kerry were denied the scores that in retrospect they really needed to build up before the break.
With the wind behind us in the second half our workrate, allied with greater experience and a much heartier appetite for the extremely difficult conditions, meant that Kerry had to battle hard to get up the field at all, let alone score. We bossed them pretty comprehensively in that second half and when the decisive goal came there was little real surprise that it had happened. It was, though, a delightful score and fair play to Mattie for bagging it, securing the win in the process.
So any gnawing fears we might have had beforehand about relegation – which were eradicated ahead of throw-in with Roscommon’s defeat to Galway – have now been replaced by thoughts about a possible League final appearance. The odds still favour Kerry and Galway in that race – if Kerry beat Roscommon and Galway beat Tyrone in Round 7 they’ll meet in the final – but all we can do is look to get a result against Monaghan and take it from there.
Going into this League campaign, our aim was to give plenty of game time to new players and do what we could to retain our top tier status. With a round left to play, James Horan has already achieved that and more, making this spring campaign a definite success. Added to that, tonight’s win over quality opposition provides a hint, perhaps, of the direction we’re now travelling in as we head towards summer.
Mayo: David Clarke; Chris Barret, Brendan Harrison, Keith Higgins; Stephen Coen, Michael Plunkett, Donal Vaughan; Matthew Ruane (1-1), Aidan O’Shea; Fionn McDonagh (0-1), Conor Loftus, Diarmuid O’Connor; Kevin McLoughlin (0-2), Jason Doherty (0-5, four frees), James Durcan. Subs: Fergal Boland (0-1) for Loftus, Andy Moran for Durcan, Lee Keegan for Vaughan, Colm Boyle for Plunkett, Robbie Hennelly for Clarke.
Who was our MOTM against Kerry? Pick your top three performers
- Aidan O'Shea (40%, 726 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (30%, 544 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (11%, 198 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (4%, 78 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (3%, 50 Votes)
- Fionn McDonagh (2%, 44 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (2%, 39 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (1%, 27 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (1%, 26 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (1%, 24 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (1%, 16 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 13 Votes)
- David Clarke (1%, 12 Votes)
- Robbie Hennelly (1%, 11 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (1%, 11 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (0%, 9 Votes)
- James Durcan (0%, 3 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (0%, 3 Votes)
- Andy Moran (0%, 1 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (0%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,049