A half-century of pain. Well, not quite, but close enough. Our championship meetings with Kerry this decade have proved to be truly chastening affairs and I suppose it’s only natural that the two lacerating All-Ireland final defeats we suffered at their hands in 2004 and again in 2006 should colour our thoughts about how we stand vis-à-vis the Kingdom. Our fifty-year record against them doesn’t make for hugely comforting reading either and it’ll surprise nobody to learn that it’s one that is heavily canted in their direction.
We’ve met 26 times between 1958 and 2008 (well, between 1968 and 2008, in fact, as we were mercifully spared any clashes with them in the last decade under consideration), which is roughly one beating meeting every two years but there have been longish gaps between matches as well. After they beat us in the 1997 All-Ireland, for example, we didn’t see the Green and Gold (well, Kerry’s version of it, we’d have seen a bit of Leitrim’s) again ’till we met in the league in early 2004, where they beat us again. After they’d beaten us (there’s a pattern here – can you notice it?) in the 1972 league final (having also beaten us in the final the previous year, by the way), they then left us in peace until 1981 but, of course, they made up for lost time on that occasion by playing us off the field in that year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
At the other end of the scale, 1969 stands as an oddity, as we met them four times that year. Three of these clashes were in the league, starting with a drawn Division III semi-final that April in Limerick. A week later they beat us in the replay in Pearse Stadium but the most significant loss of the year to them occurred in August where they edged by us with just the minimum margin to spare in that year’s All-Ireland semi-final. That one stands out in many Mayo supporters’ memories as one that got away and the fact that we had to face the might of the Kingdom only a week after disposing of Galway in a Connacht final replay added to the injustice of that loss. We went on to beat them by two points in our third league clash of the year that November in McHale Park but victory that day was sure to have had a hollow ring about it.
Here, then, is the complete and, from our perspective, not-so-pretty picture of our half-century record against the Kerry lads:
In aggregate terms, we’ve played them 26 times, winning just seven, drawing two and losing the remaining 17. Our fifty-year aggregate score against them is 29-300 to 21-243 in their favour. That’s a scoreline that brooks no argument, I suppose, but if you subtracted from that the three championship hidings they’ve given us, it’d look a bit better. Our championship record against them is, of course, a dismal one – we’ve met seven times and our rip-roaring 1996 All-Ireland semi-final win over them stands out as the sole joyous aberration amidst an otherwise uniform list of defeats. By deduction, that means that our league record against them stands at six wins, two draws and eleven defeats and of course, it’s worth noting, for the record like, that two of those defeats occurred in league finals. They really do have the hex on us in finals.
Our record against them in matches played in the Kingdom isn’t encouraging either, as we’ve lost four of the five league games we’ve played there. Our most recent trip there, however, back in 2006 yielded our first win over them in all competitions in a decade and that result stands as the only victory we’ve recorded over them on Kerry soil in half a century. (It may even rank as our only victory of all time down there but my records don’t yet go back to the very dawn of time so I can’t, with certainty, make any such claim). That’s not all the good news either as we’re currently on a bit of a winning streak against them in the league. Following that victorious start to Mickey Moran’s reign in 2006, we beat them decisively enough on the opening day of the league at McHale Park in 2007 (there was, of course, the little – ahem – matter of our 2006 All-Ireland final clash in between but let’s ignore that for now) and we pipped them by a point, also at McHale Park, last year.
Seeing as we’re now heading for a league four-in-a-row over them, you’d think the bookies would be giving us some chance of recording a win in Tralee in Sunday but I guess they’re looking at the bigger picture and, as I’ve just sketched it, it’s not one that would have you rushing to the counter with your betting slip. Having said that, though, odds of 3/1 to complete this particular four-in-a-row cannot in any way be described as ungenerous.