MARC Ó Sé I WAS WRONG, ROCHFORD’S MEN HAVE STEEL IN SPADES

The West­ern­ers bul­lied Kerry and showed they should no longer be un­der­es­ti­mated

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - THE TITLE - Marc Ó Sé

I WILL hold my hands up. I have been very hard on Mayo this year and have ques­tioned whether they have the killer in­stinct. I won’t ques­tion that again. Their per­for­mance yes­ter­day proved how much men­tal strength and re­solve this re­mark­able team have. They will be­lieve that they are primed to end the long wait for Sam Maguire in three week’s time. And they should.

From the open­ing mo­ments of this game, the phys­i­cal­ity of the Mayo play­ers set the tone. And Kerry had no an­swer for it. They were bul­lied by the likes of Colm Boyle, Tom Par­sons and Ja­son Do­herty, who was ex­cep­tional and re­ally stood up as a leader when Cil­lian O’Con­nor got black carded.

Huge credit has to go to Stephen Rochford and his man­age­ment team. They were roundly crit­i­cised last week for their de­ci­sion to put Ai­dan O’Shea back at the edge of the square. But they have been jus­kick-outs ti­fied in ev­ery de­ci­sion they have made now be­cause they have three weeks to pre­pare for an All-Ire­land fi­nal.

The num­ber of games that Mayo have played is clearly an ad­van­tage. They are im­prov­ing with ev­ery step on their jour­ney and have ironed out many of the is­sues from early sum­mer. This is not the first time that a team have come through the back door and im­proved with ev­ery game. We did it with Kerry in 2002 and 2009, Ty­rone did in 2009. Each game has brought Mayo on this sum­mer, too.

It was ev­i­dent from early on that the Kerry full-back line was in trou­ble again, Peter Crow­ley and Shane En­right both had to take yel­low cards in the first half and they were tak­ing on a lot of wa­ter.

Paul Mur­phy, who was one of Kerry’s best per­form­ers, was de­ployed as a sweeper but Mayo still caused prob­lems with their hard-run­ning and phys­i­cal power.

The pre­ci­sion of David Clarke’s was also vi­tal. Even with Mur­phy as a sweeper, Kerry were go­ing with a high press but Clarke was still able to find his man ev­ery time, es­pe­cially in the first half. And of course, his save in the sec­ond half will be talked about for a long time in Mayo.

Clarke’s solid per­for­mance con­trasts with that of Brian Kelly, who had a hor­ror show. He has been a fine goal­keeper for Kerry but he had a bad day at the of­fice yes­ter­day and I thought man­ager Éa­monn Fitz­mau­rice should have re­placed him at half-time and given Shane Ryan a chance.

In the first half, I felt ref­eree David Gough was a bit hard on Kerry with some of the de­ci­sions and Dar­ran O’Sul­li­van’s irate re­ac­tion to his black card early in the sec­ond pe­riod showed me that it was the wrong de­ci­sion. O’Sul­li­van made a dif­fer­ence when he came on too, so who knows what would have hap­pened if the lines­man didn’t in­sist on his black card.

There will be a few what-ifs in Kerry this morn­ing. Had Peter Crow­ley’s goal chance gone in dur­ing the open­ing pe­riod – com­ing straight af­ter Diar­muid O’Con­nor’s goal – it could have been a dif­fer­ent game. But, at the same time, there is no es­cap­ing that Mayo were the bet­ter team. Since the Na­tional League fi­nal, Kerry just haven’t per­formed to the re­quired lev­els – they were tested by Clare and while dom­i­nant against both Cork and Gal­way, both of those sides had their mo­ments in those ties.

They lacked lead­er­ship at crit­i­cal times, es­pe­cially in de­fence. They needed a leader like Ai­dan O’Ma­hony back there at times, but in the likes of O’Ma­hony and Colm Cooper, Kerry have lost some gen­uine lead­ers and real pres­ence in the dress­ing room over the past year. It is hard to re­place them.

But Kerry must do just that. The county is in their fourth All-Ire­land mi­nor fi­nal and they need to start bring­ing some of those play­ers through into the se­nior ranks, es­pe­cially in de­fence, It just looked like they were leak­ing wa­ter all over the pitch from early on, yes­ter­day.

Colm Boyle had Don­n­chadh Walsh’s num­ber from the open­ing few mo­ments and in hind­sight, maybe a switch should have been

The num­ber of games played by Mayo is an ad­van­tage

made there. Much de­bate will also cen­tre on James O’Donoghue and the de­ci­sion to drop him.

O’Donoghue cer­tainly made a dif­fer­ence when he came on and of­fered the Kerry at­tack a fo­cal point they lacked for much of the first half, but Éa­monn Fitz­mau­rice and his back­room team are pick­ing the side on what they see in train­ing and in matches and the Kil­lar­ney man hadn’t been go­ing well up un­til yes­ter­day.

Kerry used more high ball into Kieran Don­aghy yes­ter­day but Ai­dan O’Shea and Mayo did very well in snuff­ing it out and neu­tral­is­ing that treat. If that’s the last time we do see Don­aghy with Kerry, it will dis­ap­point­ing to go out this way.

But in the end, Mayo were just too good for Kerry. Too phys­i­cal and too strong. They bul­lied them. The nine games over the sum­mer has served them very well, as they did Ty­rone in 2005.

It is time for the rest of us to stop un­dees­ti­mat­ing this re­mark­able Mayo team. No mat­ter who they face in the fi­nal, they will be­lieve they are bet­ter than them.

NO WAY

THROUGH: Keith Hig­gins of Mayo holds up Kerry sub­sti­tute James O’Donoghue at Croke Park

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