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
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