Back in 2019, the only previous time when Mayo played Kerry in the Championship at Fitzgerald Stadium, the day felt like a huge occasion. The place was packed, there was a big Mayo crowd there and while we were no match for the home team, it felt as if we’d all been part of a big GAA summer day.
Today was very different. The crowd was still big enough – a touch over 23,000 – but most of those were home supporters. As they’d very little to shout about all day, the atmosphere was strangely subdued, with a tinge of oppression the longer it went on, not that this bothered the small Mayo support on whom it gradually began to dawn that we were going to win this one and with a bit to spare too.
Such an outcome always felt like a bit of a stretch in advance, all the more so when it was announced that captain Paddy Durcan, along with Stephen Coen and Fionn McDonagh, wouldn’t be starting. Padraig O’Hora, Donnacha McHugh and Jason Doherty all lined out instead and that meant we were going with an extremely experimental back six against arguably the best attack in the country.
From the off, though, this was a game we controlled. We should have had the ball in the Kerry net as early as the first minute, but Diarmuid O’Connor’s effort was saved by Ryan. The Kerry goalie would save his team three further times before we finally raised the game’s solitary green flag with ten minutes to go.
We got the game’s opening two scores, a Ryan O’Donoghue point after James Carr missed our second goal chance. There was only three minutes played at this point!
Aidan O’Shea swung over a free from the right-hand side and he then added a mark after they’d opened their account.
When David Clifford squared the contest up on 12 minutes, it looked as if Kerry were getting into their groove. But they’d never lead in this contest and we responded with the game’s next two scores, the first fisted over by Padraig O’Hora and the second smashed over by James Carr.
As the first half progressed our hold around the middle became more pronounced and chances opened up for us. This enabled us to push on to a five-point lead at the break and the scores we bagged in doing this – from James Carr, Ryan O’Donoghue and Jack Carney – were truly exceptional. We were efficient too, our sole wides in the first half coming from two miscued ’45s from Colm Reape.
Kerry knew at half-time that their long unbeaten run at Fitzgerald Stadium was under threat. We expected them to come at us with greater intent and, led by their great talisman David Clifford, who was predictably brilliant again today, scoring eight points, this they duly did.
Now our backline had to be alert, as Clifford twice went for goal. Colm Reape saved the first of these efforts while Sam Callinan – imperious today on his Championship debut – prevented the other with a goal-line block.
We made a series of astute changes over the course of the second half. Paddy, we were told afterwards that he hadn’t a full seventy minutes in him, came on for Jason Doherty and was prominent for us to the finish. Enda Hession replaced Sam Callinan and Tommy Conroy came on for James Carr. Eoghan McLaughlin replaced Padraig O’Hora and Stephen Coen made an appearance before the finish, replacing Jack Coyne.
They cut the gap to three with twenty minutes to go but that was as close as they got to us. It became increasingly clear that they weren’t going to bridge the gap as we continued to own the ball for long spells, sucking air from the contest but then suddenly jabbing into attack with intent.
It was just before Clifford got that point to cut the gap to three that our fourth goal chance arrived. A cleverly worked move saw Matthew Ruane – who had his best game in ages for us today – put through but Ryan, once again, pulled off a super save.
The next goal chance came ten minutes later,. Eoghan McLaughlin wasn’t on the field long at that stage and few would have backed the Westport man, who isn’t known for his clinical finishing, but he absolutely drilled it low into the corner.
That was game over and within five minutes the exodus of Kerry supporters was on in earnest. It even began to rain but not that we cared.
We saw the game out calmly and efficiently, Kerry’s long unbeaten run in the Championship at this famous venue ending with a whimper rather than a bang. We were more than full value for the five points we had to spare over them at the finish.
This unexpected win gives us serious momentum in this all-new Championship. As Kevin McStay noted on the podcast last week, winning your games gives you a nice steady, week on, week off programme and this win now gives us the potential to have that schedule from here on.
The aim at this stage obviously has to be for us to top the group and advance directly to the All-Ireland quarter-final where we should, all other things being equal, avoid one of the big guns.
After today, the road to the final four looks a bit clearer. So too does the game plan we’ve adopted and, indeed, the ultimate ambition of this Mayo team.
Today’s win represents a clear statement of intent. We’re in the mix this summer, of that there is no doubt, and an interesting campaign it could yet prove to be for us.
Mayo: Colm Reape; Jack Coyne, David McBrien, Sam Callinan; Padraig O’Hora (0-1), Conor Loftus, Donnacha McHugh (0-1); Matthew Ruane (0-2), Diarmuid O’Connor; Jason Doherty (0-1), Jack Carney (0-1), Jordan Flynn (0-1); Aidan O’Shea (0-3, two frees and a mark), James Carr (0-3), Ryan O’Donoghue (0-5, two frees). Subs: Paddy Durcan (0-1) for Doherty, Enda Hession for Callinan, Tommy Conroy for Carr, Eoghan McLaughlin (1-0) for O’Hora, Stephen Coen for Coyne.
Who was our MOTM from the Kerry game? Pick your top three performers
- Aidan O'Shea (27%, 935 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (22%, 767 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (7%, 235 Votes)
- James Carr (6%, 212 Votes)
- Jack Carney (6%, 207 Votes)
- Sam Callinan (6%, 206 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (5%, 188 Votes)
- Colm Reape (4%, 152 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (3%, 119 Votes)
- David McBrien (3%, 106 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (3%, 87 Votes)
- Donnacha McHugh (2%, 54 Votes)
- Eoghan McLaughlin (1%, 45 Votes)
- Jack Coyne (1%, 32 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (1%, 32 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (1%, 30 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 24 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (0%, 11 Votes)
- Tommy Conroy (0%, 11 Votes)
- Enda Hession (0%, 6 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,614
Our Final Whistle podcast show from Fitzgerald Stadium is now up on Patreon for club members. Mike Rob and I are on it, we’ve match analysis from Martin Carney and post-match reaction from Stephen Rochford. Join the club here.