We’ve only gone and won the League.
Today’s super comeback win over Kerry in the Division One decider was as uplifting as it was surprising. After a very flat opening half from us, it didn’t look like it was going to be our day. We were fortunate then to go in just four points in arrears and at that stage another final disappointment appeared to be our fate for the second half.
But on the resumption the lads ripped up that tired old script. As they came back into it, Kerry’s challenge started to crumble until eventually our blue wave swept them away. We were worthy four-point winners at the finish.
Kerry struck blood in this title decider right from the throw-in. Lee Keegan fouled Sean O’Shea directly in front of the posts less than thirty yards from goal and O’Shea tapped over the resultant free.
Kerry came close a few times to adding to that tally but twice Robbie Hennelly rose high on his goal-line to claim balls that might have crept over the bar. This was something he was called on to do a number of times more before the match was over.
Five minutes passed before we opened our account into the Hill end. Great work up the right wing by James Carr opened a route in for Fergal Boland and the Aghamore player wisely opted to fist it over.
Our next chance could have reaped greater dividends but Donal Vaughan shot at the Kerry ‘keeper who saved with his legs. Soon after Paddy Durcan pointed from distance to edge us in front.
Our next score was started and finished by Matthew Ruane. He spotted Keith Higgins lurking inside and found him with a precise pass, then took the offload back off him and knocked it over.
We looked in good shape then but immediately found ourselves rocked back by the game’s opening goal. Clifford – always a menace, who gave Brendan Harrison a torrid time up until the break – fed wing-back Gavin Crowley who sashayed clear of our flailing cover before planting a rocket into the corner of the net.
We wobbled for a good ten minutes or so after that. Kerry, though, despite the trouble their speedy penetrating attacks were causing us, only added two points to their tally during that period.
A Jason Doherty point from play eventually looked to have settled us. But direct from the kick-out we coughed up a second goal. This time Stephen O’Brien cut cleanly through the middle and rifled it home. Now we were in real bother.
Two wides – a ’50 by Robbie that clipped the post but landed the wrong side and a poor effort from Lee after a great pass to him from Darren Coen – did little to lift our gathering gloom. Fergal Boland’s second fisted point of the day did, though, perk us up anew.
That was the final score of the half. As the lads trooped off at the break we knew we were in trouble. Kerry were proving way more of a handful than they’d done in Tralee, not surprising, in truth, given that they’d added Clifford to their ranks since then. It was far from clear then whether or not we had it in us to get the better of them this time.
We started the second half, though, in the right frame of mind. James Carr clipped over two points, the first from play off his left, the second off his right by way of a free shot from a forward mark, and so suddenly the gap was now a much more manageable two-point one.
The Ardagh player – incredibly making his full senior debut at inter-county level today – had a goal chance soon after. Aidan O’Shea picked him out with a superb long ball in but the cover quickly converged on James before he had a chance to pull the trigger. The ball did, though, squirm loose and was claimed by Darren Coen who fired over.
Kerry were now feeling the heat. They steadied themselves, though, when O’Shea pointed a free after Keith fouled Stephen O’Brien.
Soon after Aidan O’Shea was extremely unfortunate to find himself in the book along with Kerry’s Jack Barry. The Kerry player wrestled Aidan to the ground and the Breaffy man wasn’t even resisting this play-acting, waiting for the ref to finally sort the nonsense. That card was to have ramifications for Aidan later as, no doubt, was the intent of the player who’d instigated the incident.
We went through another unsettling spell after that. Another wide from a ’50 by Robbie followed by a wide from a good position by Darren Coen meant we’d spurned the chance to draw level. Instead they added two points to pull four clear.
The game appeared to be running away from us. But then Mattie Ruane went on one of those trademark charges of his, Darren Coen threading a delicious pass to him which the Breaffy player took, drove on and smashed the ball to the net.
They got the next score, another O’Shea free, following a high tackle by Chris Barrett, but now the first sense that the momentum in this match was swinging towards us began to stir.
Increasingly, we started to drive hard at them, Lee and Paddy leading the charge from half-back. Kerry, so threatening themselves earlier on, began to wilt in the face of what now became a sustained assault, one given further potency by the amount of ball we were winning out around the middle.
By now, Andy Moran – our perennial thorn in Kerry’s side – had replaced Darren Coen and the Kerry backline had become much more jittery. But they had another threats facing them too and Diarmuid O’Connor reminded them forcefully of this fact, smashing over a long-range effort at the end of a move that Aidan had begun with a delicious turnover.
We then had a half-decent penalty shout, when James Carr went down in the large square as he bore down on goal. It wasn’t given, nor in truth did it really deserve to be.
Our next effort, from Fergal Boland, cannoned back off the upright. Andy was fouled in the aftermath, though, and from close range Jason Doherty knocked over the free to level the contest.
Soon after Diarmuid launched another monstrous effort from distance. An enormous roar erupted from the big Mayo following as this one too made it over Shane Ryan’s bar.
Diarmuid had a third go from similar range a few minutes later. This time, though, the shot didn’t quite have the legs, Ryan leaping high to fetch it on his line. Up the other end, after a long over-and-back move, Barry shot over to level the game once more. Robbie was called into action after that to claim another ball that almost crept over his bar.
Down the field we swept after that. Paddy’s ball in towards Diarmuid was definitely on the speculative side but Ryan dashed from his line to meet it and Diarmuid evaded both him and his marker to connect powerfully with his fist and send the ball hurtling to the net.
Three up with five minutes of normal time to go and the May-Oh! chants began in earnest. But could we, at last, seal the deal in a final at Croke Park?
Kerry now came at us in a desperate attempt to pull the fat from the fire. Sub Paul Geaney pulled one back and then when Aidan was ordered off on a second yellow with four minutes of added time still to play it looked like we might not be able to hold out.
Kerry came again but Robbie pulled off a miracle save to avert a goal-scoring chance and the ball was somehow scrambled to safety. But Kerry weren’t done yet, Clifford firing over soon after to cut the gap to the minimum.
But in their haste to take the game to us they had left gaps at the back. As we broke out rapidly – attack being the best form of defence and all that – sub Ciaran Treacy slipped his marker and Andy found him with a delicious ball in over the top. The Ballina youngster promptly bore down on goal and buried it.
We were in dreamland. Seconds later it was all over and The Green and Red of Mayo was being blasted out over the PA system as we all began to take in the reality that, for once, we were going home from Croke Park having won a national title.
The cup presentation was a special moment for the many loyal Mayo fans who had witnessed so many disappointing final days. This win doesn’t ease the pain from all that but, let’s be honest, the winning feeling is a nice one and it’s one we certainly could get used to.
For James and his players, today’s win is not only a wonderful result. It’s also testimony to the hard work put in over several months, during which we’ve built ourselves back up into a force to be reckoned with, one that’s now ready to challenge for higher peaks than the one we reached so joyously today.
Today’s League title win, though, deserves to be celebrated in its own right. We’re a county with a long and proud record in this competition and today’s win means we’re League champions for the twelfth time. It’s also the first national title we’ve won in eighteen long years.
Clearly, it’s that other longer gap that we all want to bridge. Today’s win could, in time, be looked back on as a vital stepping stone towards that ultimate goal but tonight let’s just kick back and celebrate it in its own right. Mine’s a beer. Up Mayo.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Chris Barrett, Brendan Harrison, Keith Higgins; Paddy Durcan (0-1), Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan; Matthew Ruane (1-1), Aidan O’Shea; Fergal Boland (0-2), Jason Doherty (0-2, one free), Diarmuid O’Connor (1-2); Kevin McLoughlin, Darren Coen (0-1), James Carr (0-2). Subs: Andy Moran for Coen, Colm Boyle for Vaughan, Evan Regan for Carr, Ciaran Treacy (1-0) for Doherty.
Who was our MOTM against Kerry? Pick your top three performers
- Diarmuid O'Connor (30%, 694 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (20%, 452 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (14%, 322 Votes)
- Robbie Hennelly (11%, 248 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (5%, 125 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (5%, 108 Votes)
- James Carr (4%, 81 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (3%, 72 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (2%, 45 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (2%, 40 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (2%, 36 Votes)
- Ciaran Treacy (1%, 16 Votes)
- Andy Moran (1%, 12 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (0%, 8 Votes)
- Darren Coen (0%, 8 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (0%, 7 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (0%, 4 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (0%, 3 Votes)
- Evan Regan (0%, 3 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,208