Not only was it rather nice to get to leave Croke Park yesterday in a good mood while attired in a Mayo jersey, it was also good to be able to relax after the minor match was over with our place on All-Ireland final day secured in order to watch the senior game from the perspective of a disinterested neutral. Not completely so, of course, given that one always likes to see the Kerrymen getting it in the neck and, having come up short ourselves against Meath the other day, a good performance yesterday by the Royals would have provided some comfort to us as we face into yet another winter of trying to figure out how far off the pace our lads were dish ear.
There was a good atmosphere at HQ yesterday as well and the attendance of just over 50,000 was a decent enough one for a semi-final. Meath brought a big, noisy crowd with them but there’s was a decent-sized mob up from the Kingdom too and, when you added in the Mayo and Down supporters and associated hangers-on that made for a big enough crowd. Because of this, the pre-match parade had a sense of occasion about it:
Sadly, that was the highpoint of the afternoon (well, apart from our second half performance in the minor match). There have been many poor semi-finals down the years but yesterday’s was surely up there with the very worst. It was a truly awful contest and while the rain and the consequent slipping and sliding didn’t help, the quality of the contest was shockingly poor. On this evidence, we can take precious little comfort about where we stand in the order of things facing into 2010.
Kerry did more than enough to win with a bit to spare yesterday and, in that sense, you can’t blame them for that godawful second half, when the intensity levels dropped and where, after Kerry’s opening flurry that totally killed the contest, we had to wait for something like fifteen minutes to see another score from either team. That knockout blow – so predictable, so Kerry-like – was the only good football played in the entire seventy minutes and the way they created the goal, in a move started by MOTM Tadhg Kenneally and finished with some aplomb by Tommy Walsh, was the sole hint the Kerrymen were willing (or able?) to give about what they could do if they really put their minds to it.
Apart from that, I thought Kerry’s approach was negative and cynical (see – they have learned from Tyrone) and the Gooch’s dive for the penalty was an absolute and utter disgrace. It was also hugely depressing, in a week where diving has been a hot topic in relation to that other football code across the water, to see that deliberate dives by Wayne Rooney and Colm Cooper met with the same assessment by the so-called experts on MOTD and TSG. Lee Dixon and Tommy Lyons even used the same terminology, though Tommy’s pronunciation was a bit more colloquial: “Oh, a shtonewall penalty, Des” he opined, his toes tapping visibly as he provided his bullshit assessment.
It’s a pity that Darren O’Sullivan (another gent who knows plenty about tumbling to the deck after the faintest of contact) didn’t fall on his hole a bit sooner – in the mode of John Terry – when taking the penalty. It was a poor effort, directed too near to the keeper but unfortunately for Meath, their keeper’s name was O’Rourke, not Schlingermann, and so despite this the ball still found its way to the net. As a result, with that early bit of cheating having produced the desired result, the Kerrymen had established a platform from which they could sustain their push for a sixth All-Ireland final appearance on the trot.
Meath, it must be said, helped them mightily on their way, shooting an incredible sixteen wides over the course of the seventy minutes. Had that been our lads, the TV panelists would have been queueing up afterwards to hoot about how Mayo forwards down the years were never able to locate the posts but I didn’t hear any mention of the Royals’ wayward shooting on the box last night. There were, in truth, plenty of other Meath shortcomings to talk about, not least their inability to vary their tactics which saw them continue to pump ball into the gleeful arms of the Kerry backs throughout the second half.
So it’s Kerry and Cork in the final again but I doubt very much if this one will be anything like the 2007 decider. Conor Counihan’s Cork are a far better oiled machine than the side sent out by the volatile Billy Morgan two years ago and Kerry don’t look near as good as they did on the day that they claimed their most recent All-Ireland title either. That said, anyone who thinks that Kerry don’t have a chance of beating Cork in Croke Park, especially when Sam is up there in the Hogan awaiting the winners, needs their head testing. I hope to be there at HQ to see this contest and, with a bit of luck, I’ll already have seen Aidan Walsh lift the Tom Markham Cup before the battle for Sam gets underway. If that happens, indeed, I mightn’t even wait to see the senior final!