Goals definitely do win games.
Kerry got four of them in this afternoon’s LGFA All-Ireland SFC semi-final and we didn’t get any. We may only have ended up scoring once less than they did over the course of the game but they still won with a lot to spare, nine points to be precise, on a scoreline of 4-10 to 0-13.
It was a perfect summer’s day at Croke Park this afternoon and, despite the modest attendance, there was, as the teams marched around the pitch in the pre-match parade, a real air of anticipation about the contest that was about to get underway. For both teams, this was an unexpected shot at reaching this year’s All-Ireland final and that place in the decider would go to whichever of them seized the opportunity best.
We opened brightly, Shauna Howley converting a free to open the day’s scoring. The Knockmore player looked to have pointed again just after – this time from play – and, although Shauna’s effort looked over, it was called wide.
Kerry got their opening goal in one of their first forays downfield. Aisling O’Connor seemed to mis-hit her shot but the ball spun awkwardly, deceiving ‘keeper Aisling Tarpey, and it landed in the net.
It was the dream opening for the Kingdom. They quickly settled into the game and came at us hard and fast, cutting our backline open repeatedly. They added two points to their tally before Ciara Whyte knocked over our second one.
Then Kerry got their second goal. There was more than a hint of a square ball to it as Siofra O’Shea palmed it downwards to the net. On the big screen it looked borderline but, having consulted his umpires, the ref allowed the goal to stand.
Kerry added a point to stretch their lead to seven. Already, with little more than ten minutes played, we were in a bit of a hole.
Admirably, though, we came out swinging. We bagged four points on the spin to shave their lead back to three.
Tara Needham got the first of these and when we won the resultant kickout, the ball was played to the lively Lisa Cafferkey who fired over. Two points from Shauna, one a free, followed in short order.
We traded points with them, Sarah Mulvihill getting our one, but there was a real sense at this point that we were, despite conceding those early goals, getting back on terms in this contest.
But then all that good work was undone as we conceded a third goal. This was a poor one from our perspective, as O’Shea’s shot didn’t seem to have the required venom, but Aisling was unable to keep it out.
They added two more points before the break and although we bagged the half’s final score we went in seven in arrears.
In truth, we were well on the way to being beaten by then. Kerry looked more potent in attack than we did and, at the back, they had the cuteness to commit tactical fouls in the right areas. There was no way we were going to be allowed to waltz through our backline in the manner we were letting them.
Despite the enormity of the task now facing us, we opened the second half in a positive vein. Aoife Geraghty, who had a fine game today, ended a longish period of possession for us by firing over from a good position.
Two cracking scores from play, from Shauna and Tara, followed and suddenly the gap was back to four. Game on again?
Sadly, it wasn’t to be. They got two points in a minute and, after Aoife Geraghty landed a cracking score, shooting under enormous pressure, they added two further points.
The next goal – their fourth of the game – finished us off. This resulted from a mix-up in our backline, with Paris McCarthy nipping in at speed and stealing possession. She unleashed a thumping shot which Aisling did well to parry but the ball still dribbled agonisingly over the line to put the result beyond doubt.
With close to twenty minutes left to play, that proved to be Kerry’s final score of the day. But we only added one further point, one from play by Sinéad Cafferkey, before the hooter sounded to confirm Kerry’s win by a comfortable nine-point margin.
It’s tough for our women to end their season in this way. As Sinéad Stagg said to me when we were chatting on the ‘Final Whistle’ podcast soon after the game, had we played Kerry last weekend there’s a good chance we might have beaten them.
The fire and intensity we showed in spades down in Ennis a week ago was, however, largely absent today. Instead Kerry brought the fire to this contest and they fully deserve their place in this year’s final where they’ll surely relish putting it up to defending champions Meath.
But the manner of today’s defeat shouldn’t define the year for this young Mayo team. Shorn of several first fifteen players – the main stars from last year – the team Michael Moyles has rebuilt this year has shown heart and guts in abundance and this will surely stand to them in 2023.
It wasn’t to be for them today but the wide-open nature of the LGFA Championship means that we’ll be well placed to made an even harder push towards glory next year. Hard luck to the team today and here’s to brighter days ahead for them in the future.
Mayo: Aisling Tarpey; Éilis Ronayne, Róisin Flynn, Danielle Caldwell; Tamara O’Connor, Fiona McHale, Kathryn Sullivan; Sinéad Cafferkey (0-2), Aoife Geraghty (0-2); Shauna Howley (0-4, two frees), Sinéad Walsh, Sarah Mulvihill (0-1); Lisa Cafferkey (0-1), Ciara Whyte (0-1), Tara Needham (0-2). Subs: Ciara Needham for Mulvihill, Lucy Wallace for Sullivan, Sorcha McCarney for Whyte, Jenna Mortimer for McHale, Sherin El Massry for Ronayne.
On our ‘Final Whistle’ podcast, online now for club members, two-time All-Ireland winning medallist Sinéad Stagg joins me to review today’s match. Join the club here to listen to this and more great exclusive content.