At half-time this game couldn’t end quickly enough for us. Thoroughly outplayed in a chastening opening period, a hammering at the hands of a lively, inventive Kerry looked more a probability than a possibility.
Few of us in the 8,069 crowd that had gathered in perishingly cold weather for this match could have predicted what was to unfold after the break. We roared back into it in what was a veritable game of two halves. And then some.
In the end, we came up agonisingly short. We lost by just a single point and would have snatched what would have been a deserved draw had Keith Higgins not miscued a scoring chance right at the death.
But let’s wind the clock back to the start. We made three changes before throw-in, with Padraig O’Hora replaced by James McCormack, Keith Higgins in for Eoin O’Donoghue and Tom Parsons starting instead of Michael Plunkett.
We opted to play with the wind in the opening half. A deceptive wind it was, though, blowing at best diagonally in towards the stand. It was a wind we found hard to judge in the opening half, with the visitors almost as badly perplexed by it after the break.
We suffered a nightmare start. After James Durcan screwed his shot wide from our opening attack we then conceded 1-2 before five minutes had been played. Keith was the prime culprit for the goal, attempting a high-risk pass out of defence that Tommy Walsh gobbled up before feeding Sean O’Shea who finished calmly.
An O’Shea free and a fisted score by Gavin White put Kerry five clear before Darren Coen, from a placed ball, got our opener. But we were already reeling at this stage.
Kerry had the chance to land the killer blow soon after. Keith was again to blame, pulling Moynihan down in the square. Clifford went for power, however, from the spot and the ball cannoned back off the crossbar.
Kerry came at us in waves after that, necklacing handpasses that tore through our backline at speed. The scores quickly mounted up so that with a minute to go to the break the gap between the teams stood at a yawning 1-8 to 0-2.
Tom Parsons had scored our solitary rejoinder in that spell, a point that proved to be our only one from open play in the first half. Two Kevin McLoughlin points from frees cut the gap from a yawning nine to a slightly less forbidding seven at the break.
We made three changes then. Tommy Conroy replaced Darren Coen, Eoghan McLaughlin came in for James Durcan and Tom Parsons gave way to Eoin O’Donoghue.
Immediately – and despite the fact we were now facing away from the tricky wind – we had more purpose to us. Soon it was Kerry’s turn to start staggering in this increasingly compelling contest.
Key to our recovery was how Diarmuid O’Connor took the game by the scruff of the neck. The Ballintubber player has seemed completely out of sorts so far this spring but today, for the first time in 2020, we saw the real Diarmuid and we were so much the better for it too.
Aidan, along with Keith, Kevin and Lee were also to the fore as our recovery gathered pace. But it wasn’t just the older lads who had fire in their bellies. Ryan O’Donoghue, Eoghan McLaughlin, Tommy Conroy and Eoin O’Donoghue were also prominent as we stormed back into this game.
At the back, Oisin Mullin was also playing his part. He gave Clifford a bellyful all day and I’d thought he’d got away with a deliciously unvarnished cynical hit on the Kerry superstar. Too unvarnished as it turned out because the ref – Martin McNally, who I felt was one of the better officials we’ve come across in a while – spotted it and Oisin spent the next ten minutes kicking his heels in the sin bin.
Two frees off the deck by Diarmuid gave us the perfect start to the half. The May-Oh! chants that began to ring out around the ground helped too. Oisin’s time in the bin didn’t, surprisingly, slow our recovery either.
Twice in succession, Aidan was the man giving the pass to the player who pulled the trigger. First it was Ryan O’Donoghue, then it was Eoghan MacLaughlin. Suddenly this was a three-point game and a match there to be won.
Points from O’Shea and Clifford finally got Kerry motoring. In truth, it was their ability to bag points from out the field in open play that eventually saw them home in this game, albeit by the narrowest of margins.
Eoghan MacLaughlin’s rocket to the net with fifteen minutes of normal time left to play dragged us right back into it. Points from Eoin O’Donoghue – after a long, patient period of possession – and Aidan O’Shea, who carefully wove his way around the Kerry cover like a cat sidling along a wall, brought the pot to the boil.
Stephen O’Brien cancelled out Aidan’s scores before our cheers had died down. Tommy Conroy, following a great surge by Ryan to make the score, cut the gap once more to the minimum.
Kerry, however, got themselves some precious breathing space coming down the closing stretch, with scores from Geaney and O’Shea (free). That was a winning total, but points from us from sub Paul Towey (free) and Kevin McLoughlin meant we ended up losing by just a single point.
It was rough justice to come away with nothing after that second half display but, in truth, this game was lost by us in that horrendous opening period. In that spell it was like we’d taken up where we’d left off in the second half in Clones and all manner of alarm bells were jangling at half-time.
It’s to the lads’ great credit that they put in such a fighting performance in the second half. At half-time most of us would have been forgiven for writing off this League campaign altogether but, even though we ended up losing, in an odd way our top tier cause no longer looks quite so hopeless.
The defeat pushes us closer to the trapdoor, of that there is no doubt. But we came into today’s match needing to win two of our remaining games to stay up and that’s still the target now.
Can we do this? I’ve no idea but today’s battling second half by the lads would suggest that we have at least a fighting chance of doing so.
Mayo: David Clarke; James McCormack, Oisin Mullin, Lee Keegan; Tom Parsons (0-1), Keith Higgins, Paddy Durcan; Aidan O’Shea (0-1), Stephen Coen; Jordan Flynn, Ryan O’Donoghue (0-1), Diarmuid O’Connor (0-2, frees); Kevin McLoughlin (0-3, two frees), Darren Coen (0-1, free), James Durcan. Subs: Tommy Conroy (0-1) for Darren Coen, Eoghan MacLaughlin (1-1) for James Durcan, Eoin O’Donoghue (0-1) for Parsons, Paul Towey (0-1, free) for Flynn.
Who was our MOTM against Kerry? Pick your top three performers
- Aidan O'Shea (36%, 473 Votes)
- Oisin Mullin (17%, 218 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (10%, 129 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (9%, 123 Votes)
- Eoghan MacLaughlin (8%, 112 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (5%, 67 Votes)
- David Clarke (3%, 42 Votes)
- James McCormack (2%, 30 Votes)
- Eoin O'Donoghue (2%, 28 Votes)
- Paul Towey (2%, 20 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (1%, 14 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (1%, 13 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (1%, 12 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (1%, 9 Votes)
- Tommy Conroy (1%, 8 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 7 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (1%, 7 Votes)
- Darren Coen (0%, 4 Votes)
- James Durcan (0%, 3 Votes)
Total Voters: 716