Our unbeaten start to this year’s National League, along with our long-standing unbeaten run away to Kerry in the League, both came to an end in the rain, wind and cold at Austin Stack Park in Tralee tonight. Chasing the game for most of the evening, it looked as if we’d timed our run perfectly coming down the closing stretch but instead it was the home team who nicked it, the winning score coming from a pointed free by David Clifford deep in injury time.
The fine weather I’d left this morning in Dublin had given way to rain by the time I reached Limerick and it was fairly chucking it down by the time I reached Tralee. The rain spilled down heavily all afternoon but when I made it to Austin Stack Park – more than two hours ahead of throw-in! – a lull had set in, with no rain and very little wind.
There was, however, more adverse weather to come and those of us on the right-hand side of the stand – packed to the gills soon after 5.30pm – got a bit of a dousing as sheets of heavy rain blew in from the west in on top of us.
It wasn’t a night made for football but, despite the terrible conditions, this was a cracking contest between the two form teams in Division One this spring. While the game never had the cut and thrust of a Championship encounter, it was, nonetheless, a compelling tussle.
Kerry played with the wind in the first half and, after we’d opened the scoring with a Mattie Ruane free, they then reeled off three points in a row to set the tone in this game. We never led again after that opening score and we spent most of the evening in pursuit of them.
When they cut us open with a rapid attack, a move started and then finished to the net by the excellent Tony Brosnan, it looked like this might provide a difficult night for us. That put them four clear and it came after we’d started to get a toe-hold in the game.
We reached half-way in arrears by that goal, Rob Hennelly banging over a ’45 to cut the gap to three just before the break. That came from a goal chance – our second of the half – with Diarmuid O’Connor’s shot rather fortuitously deflected by ‘keeper Murphy out over his end-line.
The three-point margin was, though, a fair reflection of how the first half had gone. Kerry had showed more intent going forward and we’d made way too many mistakes, in the main misplaced passes and handling errors.
At three points down and with the wind now behind us, though, this game was far from over. Indeed, given our strong second half showings in previous matches this spring, you could argue we were well placed at that stage.
We made our first change as the teams emerged for the second half, with Enda Hession starting in place of Stephen Coen. We needed a positive start to the half but instead they bagged the first score on the resumption, a fine effort from play by Brosnan.
A free from Ryan O’Donoghue – who racked up seven points for us tonight in yet another hugely impressive performance – provided a response to that and the gap was down to two when Fergal Boland swung over his third point of the evening. Kevin McLoughlin, just on the field for Jack Carney, helped force the turnover that led to Fergal’s score.
The points started coming in rapid succession now, as this contest began to come nicely to the boil. Clifford for them, Ryan (a free for us), Moynihan for them, Aiden Orme for us, finishing a rapid move, with Robbie’s restart finding Jordan Flynn who fed Kevin McLoughlin, whose clever ball released Aiden. The shot was no gimme but the Knockmore man nailed it.
Barry edged Kerry three ahead once more and then they had a chance to put real daylight between the teams. Paudie Clifford made a total bags of a 14-yard free, however, and we went down the other end and won a free which Ryan converted.
The comeback was now on. When Robbie missed a long-range free, it looked like we’d spurned a good chance but Kerry were penalised for encroachment on the kicker and a free was awarded to us closer to the posts. Close enough for Ryan to bang over, which he duly did.
When Mattie curled over the leveller soon after, with seven minutes of normal time left to play, I really thought we had them. We were pressing high up the pitch, they looked a bag of nerves trying to work the ball out and the tide in this contest appeared to be flowing strongly in our favour.
Instead, though, Kerry managed to get the vital scores to edge the contest. They added two points to their tally – both frees converted by Clifford – while we added just one, Ryan’s seventh point of the night.
The free we conceded deep in stoppage time seemed a bit cruel, though, in truth, Aidan did stick the hand in and so we can’t really have any complaints. Once it was given – no more than fourteen yards out – a point was going to follow and it was equally obvious it would be the winner. Which it was.
So that’s our nice unbeaten run gone but, despite this, I think we did much in this game we can be happy about. Despite the many errors we made, we more than matched Kerry on the night and we a little unlucky to come away from this game with no tangible reward.
Kerry are now all but guaranteed a place in the League final after tonight’s win. Whether or not we get there too is within our own control – if we win our final two matches, against Tyrone and Kildare, that’ll be enough to book our place in the Croke Park decider.
The first of those two takes place this day week, when we travel to Omagh to renew acquaintances with our All-Ireland conquerors Tyrone. That’s a contest we’ll definitely be up for – as we were for tonight’s too – and just the test we need, having just come up short against Kerry tonight.
Mayo: Rob Hennelly (0-1, a ’45); Padraig O’Hora, Lee Keegan, Michael Plunkett; Paddy Durcan, Stephen Coen, Oisín Mullin; Jordan Flynn, Matthew Ruane (0-2); Diarmuid O’Connor, Aidan O’Shea, Jack Carney; Fergal Boland (0-3), Aiden Orme (0-1), Ryan O’Donoghue (0-7, six frees and a mark). Subs: Enda Hession for Coen, Kevin McLoughlin for Carney, Frank Irwin for Orme, Conor Loftus for Boland, Fionn McDonagh for O’Connor.
Who was our MOTM against Kerry? Pick your top three performers
- Ryan O'Donoghue (35%, 781 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (16%, 352 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (14%, 304 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (7%, 147 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (4%, 98 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (4%, 89 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (4%, 80 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (3%, 73 Votes)
- Rob Hennelly (2%, 54 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (2%, 50 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (1%, 31 Votes)
- Oisín Mullin (1%, 29 Votes)
- Aiden Orme (1%, 25 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 20 Votes)
- Fionn McDonagh (1%, 16 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (1%, 15 Votes)
- Enda Hession (1%, 13 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (1%, 13 Votes)
- Frank Irwin (1%, 12 Votes)
- Jack Carney (0%, 10 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,074