Well, it’d be a dull old championship if we weren’t in it, wouldn’t it? Eight games on and we’re still there, not in the final but not out of it either. We should have won today but were a bit fortunate to come away with a draw.
The biggest factor in today’s match started to become apparent a few hours ahead of throw-in. A nice morning up here in the capital gave way to rain by one in the afternoon and for a while during the second half of the minor match it was pelting in earnest. The downpour had eased by the time the big match got underway but the damage was done by then, with treacherous conditions underfoot throughout.
Both teams lined out as selected but the game’s major talking point was plain to see right from the start, with Aidan O’Shea switching back to mark Kieran Donaghy. The logic of the ploy had merit, in cutting off the option for Kerry to launch an early aerial bombardment on us, but whether or not Aidan should have been left in there all day is another question, one that furiously divided many supporters where I was sitting in the Upper Cusack.
We got a dream start. Dominant on the breaks and pushing forward at every opportunity, we missed a few early chances but these were forgotten when Andy Moran smashed the ball to the net after just four minutes. Jason Doherty followed up with a point from play and we were already in the driving seat.
Frees from Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue got Kerry going but Andy restored our three-point lead. Then Seamus O’Shea fumbled a ball at midfield, Kerry broke rapidly and Donaghy fed Stephen O’Brien who smashed home a levelling goal past David Clarke.
Kerry powered on. Points from play by Young and O’Donoghue put them two up, our explosive opening now a fading memory.
But back we roared. Colm Boyle jinked through the labouring Kerry backline and got away with about eight steps before blasting in our second goal. Points from Cillian and Andy then hoisted us four clear with twenty minutes on the clock.
But, once again, back came Kerry. Four unanswered points from them dragged the contest back to stalemate at half-time.
Kerry had already replaced Michael Geaney midway through the first half and they made two further switches before the ball was thrown in to start the second half. We lined out on the resumption with the same fifteen who’d started the game.
They got the first score of the second half but over the course of the third quarter we began to take control. Andy bagged our equaliser and then Donie Vaughan got on the end of a nice move to edge us one ahead. Points from Cillian and Tom Parsons widened our lead to three as we made our first switch, Paddy Durcan coming on for Boyler.
But then just as it looked like we had them where we wanted them, we conceded another sloppy goal. David Clarke saved David Moran’s piledriver but Johnny Buckley was on hand to collect the rebound and fire to the net.
From there to the end, it was score for score, the tension ratcheting up with every minute that passed. Geaney put them one up once more, Cillian levelled with a free, then O’Donoghue put over a free for them and Andy squeezed one over on the nearside from out on the left wing.
Geaney again put them back in front but Tom, played in for a possible goal chance, flicked it over to level once more. Then Cillian smashed over a monstrous point from out on the left and victory for us beckoned again.
Not for long, though, as sub Keane fired over a quality score for them into the Hill. Then, after six nerve-shredding minutes without a score, Kerry broke the deadlock and Paul Murphy’s point had all the look of a winner about it.
We’d fluffed a few late chances at points before Murphy’s score, one of them from Paddy Durcan, but when Paddy got another chance deep into stoppage time he made no mistake and fired us level.
Tom claimed the restart too and it looked for an instant as if we were going to win in the most sensational manner possible. Just as quickly, though, we lost possession and Kerry broke, winning a free sixty or so yards out.
Bryan Sheehan, only on the field a few minutes, did his best to rob a few yards before taking the kick but the complaints from our lads, combined with the caterwauling from the stands, prompted Deegan to wave him back. Sheehan’s an incredible freetaker but his effort had neither the distance nor the accuracy. Aidan claimed the ball on the edge of the square and the final whistle sounded.
So, we live to fight again. On balance we were the better team but the two times we got on top we failed to retain the advantage, letting them back into it on both occasions.
In the end, I thought we were a bit fortunate to come away with the draw. Kerry grew in strength as the second half wore on and I really thought they’d make this count on the scoreboard. But even though they came at us repeatedly in that late period of the game, we somehow managed to keep them at bay enough times to scramble the draw.
As I said at the top, the game’s major talking point was Rochy’s decision to go with David Brady’s suggestion – which I’d always felt was a tongue-in-cheek one – of putting Aidan on Donaghy. On balance, we possibly lost more out of this gambit than we gained but, that said, Donaghy never became the high-fielding, rapid-offloading menace of our nightmares.
As an aside, it’s worth recalling how difficult Aidan normally finds it to earn frees off Maurice Deegan – who, by the way, I felt had yet another mare in a game involving us – so it’s not a given that we’d have got a big return off the Breaffy man further up the field. That said, I’d prefer to see him in a more offensive position next Saturday.
Star man for us today was, without doubt, Andy Moran. He ran the Kerry defence ragged and his 1-5 contribution from play was a huge score to run up in an All-Ireland semi-final played in such atrocious conditions.
Also prominent for us today were Jason Doherty – about whose great qualities many are finally starting to wake up – and Keith Higgins, as well as Chris Barrett and Brendan Harrison. Between them, this latter duo did so much to neuter the twin threat of O’Donoghue and Geaney.
On a day when we often had significant problems in the restart department – partly due to David Clarke’s kickouts but also as a result of Kerry’s very effective full court press – it’s easy to overlook that top-drawer one-on-one save David made late in the second half. A third goal for Kerry would surely have been fatal for us then and not for the first time this year our ‘keeper kept us in it.
And so on we go, this time to an All-Ireland semi-final replay, our second replay of the year and the third time we’ve been involved in a replay at this stage of the championship in the last four years.
2014 was also against Kerry and there was little or nothing between the teams then. Today’s heart-stopping draw proved that this is still the case and so it’d be a brave person who would predict how Saturday’s rematch will go.
What I think we can say with full confidence is that – not only on today’s evidence but every single day of this absorbing and still unfolding championship campaign – the lads will once more give it everything in the replay. We go again. And again. And again.
Mayo: David Clarke; Brendan Harrison, Donal Vaughan (0-1), Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan, Chris Barrett, Colm Boyle (1-0); Seamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons (0-2); Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor; Jason Doherty (0-1), Andy Moran (1-5), Cillian O’Connor (0-4, one free). Subs: Paddy Durcan (0-1) for Boyle, Stephen Coen for Seamus O’Shea, David Drake for Diarmuid O’Connor, Conor Loftus for Doherty.
Who was our MOTM against Kerry?
- Andy Moran (69%, 818 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (10%, 114 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (6%, 75 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (3%, 31 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (2%, 29 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (1%, 17 Votes)
- David Clarke (1%, 15 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (1%, 15 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (1%, 13 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (1%, 8 Votes)
- David Drake (1%, 8 Votes)
- Seamus O'Shea (1%, 7 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (1%, 7 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (1%, 7 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (1%, 6 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (0%, 4 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (0%, 4 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 3 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (0%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,182