Little did I think a fortnight ago, when running the rule over Kerry ahead of that upcoming Saturday night meeting with them in Tralee, that here we’d be contemplating a second March clash with them. This one in Croke Park to boot, for possession of the not insignificant matter of a National Football League title.
Ahead of that game there wasn’t any great optimism in our camp about making it to HQ for the decider this Sunday. Facing into the Tralee match we were coming off the back of dispiriting defeats to Dublin and Galway, with the possibility of losing four on the spin to conclude this year’s Division One campaign a real and present danger for us.
But, of course, the win against Kerry – followed by victory over Monaghan last Sunday, coupled with Tyrone beating both Dublin and Galway – has opened the door to the League decider for us. Kerry had all but qualified before we took them on the Saturday before last and they made sure of their place in the final last Sunday by beating Roscommon, a result that also confirmed the Rossies’ relegation from the top tier.
There’s no need, then, on this occasion to compile a fact-laden post detailing what the weekend’s opponents have been up to over the last while. The one I did for the Tralee game is linked above if your mind needs a jolt in that respect.
For this one, I think it’s worthwhile looking at how we’ve fared against Kerry in matches at Croke Park. This doesn’t make for pretty reading when using a wide historical arc but, narrowing the lens in on this decade, the narrative is a very different one.
Let’s get the ugly bit of the story – from our perspective – out of the way first. Back in 2011, I did a post detailing our complete record (at all venues and covering both League and Championship) against Kerry. This didn’t contain the kind of data that would make your average Mayo fan jump for joy.
Back then, the most recent time we’d beaten Kerry at HQ had been in the 1996 All-Ireland semi-final and the time before that was the 1951 All-Ireland semi-final replay. Since those sepia-tinged glory days and – ignoring that 1996 win – we’d lost to Kerry at Croke Park in 1952 (League semi-final), 1969 (All-Ireland semi-final), 1971 (League final), 1972 (League final), 1981 (All-Ireland semi-final), 1997 (All-Ireland final), 2004 (All-Ireland final), 2005 (All-Ireland quarter-final) and 2006 (All-Ireland final).
Surveying the scene as I did back in 2011, we’d only three wins ever over Kerry in Croke Park to our name – as well as the 1951 and 1996 semis, we’d also beaten them at the same juncture of the Championship in 1948. But overall the picture of HQ encounters with the Green and Gold, dating all the way back to 1924, was a grim one – twelve wins for them, three for us and one draw.
Later on in 2011, of course, Kerry added another victory over us at Croke Park to that list. We came into that All-Ireland semi-final on a high, having dumped out defending champions Cork in fine style three weeks earlier, but although James Horan’s young team showed no fear taking on the medal-laden Kerry stars, ultimately they won easily enough that day, on a scoreline of 1-20 to 1-11.
But since then an odd thing has happened. We’ve stopped losing to them at Croke Park.
Since 2011 we’ve played them four times at the venue and we’ve won twice and drawn twice. We did, it’s true, lose to them in Limerick in the replayed 2014 All-Ireland semi-final, but going into Sunday we’ve now got a long unbeaten record against them at HQ.
The first of those four matches was the extra-time League semi-final thriller in 2012. They should have beaten us in normal time but a late penalty goal from Pat Harte and an even later free by Cillian O’Connor pushed the game to extra-time. Conor Boyle got a wonder goal for us in extra-time and then Richie Feeney sealed the deal for us with a delicious winning point.
The drawn All-Ireland semi-final of 2014 was one of the most enthralling matches I’ve ever been at involving us. Seemingly holed below the water-line before half-time with the incredibly harsh decision to send off Lee Keegan, we trailed by four at the break and looked finished. Memories of the ferocity of our second half comeback that day still gives me goosebumps, as we turned that four-point deficit into a five-point lead with just five minutes left to play. But it was a lead we failed to hold onto, conceding a late goal and giving them that fateful second chance which they exploited to the full down in Limerick.
The drawn All-Ireland semi-final in 2017 was equally enthralling. Twice we pushed ahead decisively – with goals from Andy Moran and Colm Boyle – but both times Kerry responded in kind. We trailed by a point going into injury time but then up popped Paddy Durcan to smash over the equaliser and give us a second go at them a week later.
It was opportunity we took with relish. We dominated the replay from start to finish, on one of those great Croke Park days for us when, a full half-hour or so out from the final whistle, it was all but certain the day was going to be ours. Andy’s goal lives long in the memory from that day but so too does the controlled way we saw out that match, never letting Kerry back into it and winning in the end by five points.
So this means that on Sunday we’ll be looking to extend that unbeaten run over them at Croke Park to five matches. Those who might tempted to gainsay the significance of this statistic would do well to think back to when we were getting hammered out the gate in those finals of 2004 and 2006. Then, we’d have been happy merely to keep the beating down to respectable margins.
How much of this means anything for Sunday? Not a lot, you’d have to say. In a match where, the GAA have stated, there has to be a winner on the day, it’s Kerry who – unsurprisingly – are favoured by the bookies to lift the silverware. Paddy Power have them on offer at 8/15 to win out.
But, let’s give you the final say on Sunday’s decider. How do you think the League final will go?
Will we win the League final?
- Yes (75%, 614 Votes)
- No (25%, 203 Votes)
Total Voters: 817