Now we know why getting to the League final may not have been the best thing for us.
Shorn of a good third of our first-choice starting team, we were simply no match for Kerry’s front-rankers. They tore us apart, inflicting on us our biggest defeat at Croke Park since that landmark hiding in the All-Ireland semi-final of 1993 when Cork had twenty points to spare over us. Kerry ended up just five shy of that margin and while you could argue with their final goal – a clear square ball – there’s no arguing with the palpable fact that they beat us out the gate at HQ today.
The unceasing litany of injuries this year has been tough to take and going into this match without such important players as Robbie Hennelly, Paddy Durcan and Diarmuid O’Connor was always going to make this a tough challenge, in particular if you add in all the others we’re currently missing. Then, to make matters worse, Oisín Mullin was late absentee today, with Rory Brickenden parachuted into the pivotal centre-back position shortly ahead of throw-in.
We led briefly, bagging the game’s opening score. A nice one it was too, Ryan O’Donoghue feeding Michael Plunkett out to the right and the Ballintubber man swung it over.
David Clifford, holding off Padraig O’Hora, shot high and over into the Davin to equalise before O’Brien, under no real pressure from our backline, knocked it over off his left to put Kerry in front. Matthew Ruane cancelled that one out but when Spillane bashed Kerry’s next one over from distance, with just eight minutes played, we’d never regain parity with them again in this contest.
Despite looking alarmingly flat and devoid of a coherent plan from early on, we were still in the game up until their opening goal. That came 24 minutes in, at which time were were three down, the two additional scores we’d got coming from James Carr, following a fine run through the middle, and Jordan Flynn, fed by Lee Keegan.
Gavin White, a menace down the left wing which we’d no answer to nor, it appeared, any discernible plan for, palmed home the ball. It was he who made the score too, scorching our backline down that left-hand side and laying it off to Geaney, who poked at it, with Rory’s attempted stop sending the ball spinning up over his head and into White’s path.
We had a brief purple patch around the half-hour mark, where we bagged three points – all from play – without reply. Ryan got the first, James Carr, following another surging run, got the second and Conor Loftus fisted over the third. They eventually roused themselves again, bagging the final two scores of the half to lead by six at half-way.
You could see we were in bother then. We should, in truth, have been in far greater bother but Kerry had butchered two clear enough goal chances. We knew, though, that, unless we got into this match, we could take a right mauling in the second half.
And what a mauling it proved to be.
They beat us out the gate after the break, outscoring us by 2-9 to 0-6 in a half where we were the ones who needed to up the gas to cut an already too large deficit. They absolutely thumped us and it was embarrassing to watch it happen, even if I was doing so in my Covid self-isolation at home.
Whatever game plan we came to Croke Park with disintegrated in that second period. Our marking at the back became too loose, with Padraig O’Hora left to paddle his own canoe against Clifford, with whom he battled mightily but in vain, we got cleaned out on the breaks in midfield and our forward play looked as unco-ordinated, disjointed and poorly executed as it had done last September, only this time against better opposition.
The result was predictable and it was total carnage.
Our cause wasn’t, in truth helped, when Barry drove straight into Jordan Flynn’s chest with his shoulder after the Crossmolina man had released the ball. Once upon a time that kind of stuff was an automatic red card but the unimpressive Noel Mooney flashed a yellow. That was Jordan’s day over with.
The ref also ordered O’Connor to the sin bin when Aidan O’Shea hit the deck but the replays confirmed that there was little or no contact involved. Temporary numerical superiority should have roused us but they outscored us four points to one during that period when we were a man up.
By the time it was back to fifteen aside their lead had stretched to double-digits. Cillian O’Connor was on by now, for the strangely muted Jason Doherty, and Darren McHale, another long-term absentee, would also get a run-out before the finish.
Had the contest died quietly from our perspective as we lay ten points adrift it wouldn’t have been too bad. Sadly, it didn’t.
Instead, they applied the finishing touches to this hugely one-sided decider with two late goals. There was no arguments about the merits of the first of those, blasted home – predictably – by Clifford but Foley was already inside the small square before the ball was played in and Rory Byrne was right to be extremely exercised that the goal was allowed to stand. Here, judge for yourselves.
So, what had been, on the whole, a very positive League campaign for us has ended in the worst possible way. It’s one thing losing a national decider – yet another one – but it’s another thing entirely losing one in the craven manner we did today. As prep goes for the Championship, this is exactly what we could have done without.
All we can do now, of course, is box it off, move on and shift the focus to Galway. After today’s opening game at Croke Park, we would have been well content at the obvious shortcomings to be detected in the Tribesmen’s losing display against Roscommon but those wrinkles surely pale in significance compared to the weaknesses Kerry proceeded to expose in our ranks.
We have plenty of hard work to do over the next three weeks, not just to to put in place a coherent plan to take on Galway but, at a more basic level, to rebuild our shattered confidence after the worst hiding we’ve suffered at Croke Park in close to three decades.
The lads to come back for us will help greatly in that, of course, and we can take succour too from the fact that the hiding Kerry gave Tyrone at the League’s conclusion last year didn’t do them any good in the long run. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think there are any positives to be taken from today and three weeks is a very short period to mend what was smashed to smithereens in Croke Park this afternoon.
Mayo: Rory Byrne; Lee Keegan, Stephen Coen, Padraig O’Hora; Michael Plunkett (0-2), Rory Brickenden, Enda Hession; Jordan Flynn (0-1), Matthew Ruane (0-1); Conor Loftus (0-1), Aidan O’Shea, Jack Carney; James Carr (0-2), Jason Doherty, Ryan O’Donoghue (0-5, three frees). Subs: Kevin McLoughlin for Carney, Conor O’Shea for Flynn, Aiden Orme for Doherty, Cillian O’Connor (0-1) for Carr, Darren McHale for Ruane.
Who was our MOTM against Kerry? Pick your top three performers
- Rory Byrne (17%, 515 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (14%, 414 Votes)
- James Carr (13%, 394 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (10%, 314 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (10%, 293 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (10%, 287 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (7%, 209 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (6%, 166 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (4%, 124 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (2%, 53 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (1%, 41 Votes)
- Enda Hession (1%, 35 Votes)
- Darren McHale (1%, 32 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 24 Votes)
- Aiden Orme (1%, 20 Votes)
- Jack Carney (1%, 18 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (1%, 16 Votes)
- Rory Brickenden (1%, 15 Votes)
- Conor O'Shea (0%, 13 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (0%, 8 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,545