For a performance like this one, I’d gladly drive across the country every day of the week. The lads were absolutely superb all over the field today, they won every individual battle, they passed the ball around with authority, they defended like tigers and they got some truly memorable scores. Kerry literally didn’t know what hit them and, midway through the second half, they were reduced to belting our fellas in frustration as they simply couldn’t match us in the footballing stakes. It was such a joy to see our lads utterly dominate a Kerry team in this way and the manner in which the young princelings lost all shape and, ultimately, all respect was simply a hoot. What a day!
Writing about the match in advance last night, I expressed the fear that we might struggle to stay with Kerry today, an analysis that implicitly accepted the proposition that we had left the match behind us at Croke Park last Sunday. But it was also an analysis that was – a bit like the Kerry backline – torn to shreds this afternoon in the Gaelic Grounds. Left it behind, indeed! Instead, it was, to borrow a few terrace chants from that other football code across the water, more a case of “Can we play you every week?” or, perhaps, “Are you Leitrim in disguise?”
While it’s true that Kerry started the match today in better form, taking the lead with a long-range point from play after little more than a minute, once full-forward Aiden Walsh goaled at the other end after four minutes, we had taken a hold on the game that we would never subsequently relinquish. Kerry pulled one back from a free soon after but from then until around five minutes from the break it was all one-way traffic as we hit them with a succession of points, the pick of the bunch being this glorious left-footer from Aghamore’s Cathal Freeman. During this purple patch, as we raced 1-6 to 0-2 clear, it was obvious that our Croke Park failing – all those wides – wasn’t going to be repeated: we didn’t hit our first wide till the 18th minute today and we ended up with no more than five or six wides all day.
Then, just when it looked as if things couldn’t get worse for the young Kerry princelings, it did when an attempt at a point by Raymond Geraghty came back off the upright and Alex Corduff reacted fastest to gather the ball on the rebound and lash it to the net. With the lads now ten points clear, I found myself, to my disbelief, texting “Easy! Easy!” to The Brother, even though the match was little more than twenty minutes old at that stage.
From then to the break, however, things swung back towards Kerry, not least because the ref and his match officials went into the dreaded “go easy on the poor fuckers getting trimmed” mode. Their goal came directly from such cack-handed officiating when a line ball was given to Kerry despite the fact that our corner-back John Broderick had his jersey visibly pulled right in front of the linesman. Despite this clear foul, Kerry got the line ball which was dropped into the middle where Barry John Pat Joe Mickey Mike pulled on it and in it went.
That could have been the signal for a princely rising but it wasn’t and instead we closed out the half with two Aiden Walsh points. This was the first: an absolute monster of a free, well beyond the range of anything I’ve seen kicked by the senior team this year. The second one was a close-in effort, dispatched with ease and efficiency and it sent us in 2-8 to 1-2 ahead at the break, the lads getting a rousing ovation from the noisy Mayo crowd as they went in.
It was fairly clear at half-time that the match was as good as won and the team got a winner’s reception back out onto the field but the lads still needed to close the deal in that second period. They did so with admirable ease, soaking up whatever pressure Kerry were able to apply, making them fight for every ball all over the pitch, making sure that every score Kerry did manage to get had to be worked for. And we kept scoring at the other end too, so that, by midway through the half, we were 2-10 to 1-7 to the good and chants of “Mayo! Mayo!” were ringing around the Mackey Stand.
Five minutes later and the Kerry heads had dropped, as it became obvious to them that there wasn’t going to be any more big days out in Croke Park for them this year. Instead, they started to take their frustration out by way of sly belts and general man-before-the-ball stuff which culminated in a bit of a donnybrook out in the middle of the field and then to a straight red being issued to Kerry corner-back Padraig Reidy for his overly physical attempt to keep Alex Corduff under wraps. The Knocknagoshel youngster hadn’t completed his walk to the line all that long when sub Dean Gavin delivered the game’s coup de grace, his thundering effort hitting the crossbar and bouncing over the line for our third green flag of the afternoon.
Another Aiden Walsh free completed our scoring tally but they managed to bag two late points before the final whistle, reducing the margin between the team to ten points at the end. A lusty roar rang out from the Mayo crowd after the final whistle sounded, as subs and supporters made their way onto the pitch to mob the young heroes. And I’m sure there were a few Kerry tears at this juncture as well.
It was a wonderful performance from the lads and, like last Sunday’s effort, it was a real team accomplishment. Once again, the backline was superb with Kevin Keane again giving Kerry’s marquee forward BJ Walsh a torrid afternoon. Eoin Reilly was superb at centre-back, the midfield were excellent, Cathal Freeman was outstanding, Aiden O’Shea likewise and Alex Corduff and Aiden Walsh ran riot in the full-forward line.
What was wonderful about today’s performance was the confident and calm way that the lads moved the ball around with purpose, always looking to give the probing ball, never hitting and hoping. It was noteworthy too that in moving the ball with speed, their default means of doing so was through a succession of accurate foot passes, the majority of which found their man. Their coolness was exemplified late on too when the Kerry lads decided that they were up for a bit of belting and our guys had the good sense to know that there was no point mixing it with this defeated rabble and risk missing the All-Ireland final as a result.
Ray Dempsey can take great credit for molding this young team into the highly effective and well-functioning unit that they’ve become over the course of the summer. They looked anything but All-Ireland champions the day they scraped to an undeserved Connacht title against Roscommon back in July but they’ve come on immeasurably since then. Today’s result will – especially for those of us lucky enough to be there in Limerick today to witness it – live long in the memory but these lads will now know that further glory is there to be grasped next month in Croke Park. The rest of us mere mortals know that the hunt for tickets starts now.