Mayo’s shooting deserts them once again as Kerry march on to meet Dublin

Jack O’Connor’s Munster champions shake off the rust to proceed to the All-Ireland semi-final

Kerry 1-18 Mayo 0-13

No more than Dublin the night before, Kerry didn’t make a lot of music but sent their people home singing all the same. They came through an underwhelming contest against Mayo without doing the shock-and-awe bit so we’ll have to take it on trust that it might be in there somewhere. A little like the Munster semi-final against Cork, they were able to ease clear by doing the simple stuff Mayo couldn’t manage. They are unlikely to find the opposition so accommodating the rest of the way.

Sometimes, there’s a ruthless simplicity about sport. We wax poetic about character and guts and all that old fandango when really it’s not about that at all. It’s about whether or not you can do the thing that matters when the thing that matters has to be done. Mayo scored with four of their 16 shots in the second half. Everything else is brutally, coldly irrelevant.

This was old Mayo, bad Mayo, Gang-Who-Can’t-Shoot-Straight Mayo. But it’s new Mayo too – or at least the most recent iteration. They had enough chances here to match strides with Kerry all the way to the business minutes, just as they had against Tyrone in last year’s All-Ireland final. They just made an almighty hames of them.

We came out of their win over Kildare two weeks ago saying they wouldn’t get away with that kind of shooting performance against a better team. Here’s hoping the sky doesn’t fall in on the occasion of us being right for once. Mayo missed wide, they missed short. They took the wrong option, they kicked too quickly, they kicked too slowly. Sometimes, they didn’t kick at all.

Meanwhile, Kerry were all very typically Kerry about their task. They needed a good hour to chisel off the rust of the four-week lay-off but even when they weren’t making a lot of headway up the pitch, they were efficient in converting the chances they created. They scored 11 points from 16 shots in that second half. This stuff isn’t complicated. At least it shouldn’t be.

So as long as Kerry have that, they have the most important thing. What they do about the rest of their game will be interesting between now and the semi-final. They were never in any sort of rhythm here, with the likes of Paudie Clifford, Gavin White and Diarmuid O’Connor all unusually quiet throughout. David Moran was exceptional in midfield though and Tom O’Sullivan sallied up for three points.

Also, they have David Clifford. This wasn’t one of the boy king’s greatest days but it was one of those where he found a way to be effective. Having turned an ankle early in the proceedings, he hobbled around for much of the first half looking like a pensioner on a dodgy hip. Yet he still managed to end the half with 1-2 against his name.

Clifford’s goal was the killer score of a very even first half. Mayo had nipped and tucked their way to a 0-7 to 0-6 lead on 28 minutes, including a highlights-reel of scores from distance by Aidan O’Shea, Stephen Coen and Conor Loftus. With Clifford on a gimpy leg, Paul Geaney was grabbing the car keys for Kerry and keeping it between the ditches.

And then out of nowhere, Clifford played a one-two with Stephen O’Brien under the Cusack Stand to find himself in on goal at the Davin End. His finish was cool and high and whistled past Rob Hennelly’s ear at his near post. For most of the previous 20 minutes, Clifford looked like he should have been sitting in the stand. Jack O’Connor confirmed afterwards that they’d come very close to calling him ashore.

“We did, absolutely,” O’Connor said. “But he’s the kind of a player you’d nearly give the benefit of the doubt to most of the time. He’s not just an ordinary player and he showed it with the goal he scored which was a serious goal because it came at a time when we were struggling to get scores and we were struggling to get a foot-hold on the game. That’s the class of the man, that’s what he can do.”

It put Kerry 1-6 to 0-7 ahead and they were never caught after that. That they weren’t was as much down to Mayo as to the Munster champions. O’Shea went off on a black card five minutes short of half-time but Mayo actually outscored Kerry 0-2 to 0-1 in the time he was off the pitch. James Horan’s side weren’t clinging on, they were every bit as good as Kerry in most facets of the play.

All except the one that mattered. They kicked away chance after chance upon the restart, with Lee Keegan, Mattie Ruane (twice) and Paddy Durcan all fluffing decent opportunities. Yet they found themselves just a point down in the 50th minute, after the lively James Carr whipped over an excellent score cutting in off the right. It was there for them if they were good enough.

They weren’t. Kerry outscored them 0-7 to 0-0 in the following 20 minutes. O’Sullivan, Geaney, Killian Spillane and Sean O’Shea all did their duty, just as miss after miss was sucking the life out of Mayo at the other end. It was enough – more than enough – to see them through to the semi-final against Dublin in a fortnight.

Still favourites, still finding themselves. Still the best at the thing that you need to be the best at.

Mayo: Rob Hennelly (0-1, one free); Lee Keegan, Oisin Mullin, Enda Hession; Paddy Durcan, Stephen Coen (0-1), Eoghan McLoughlin; Aidan O’Shea (0-1), Mattie Ruane (0-1); Jordan Flynn (0-2), Diarmuid O’Connor, Conor Loftus (0-1); Kevin McLoughlin (0-1), Jack Carney (0-1), Cillian O’Connor (0-3, two frees).

Subs: James Carr (0-1) for Carney (half-time); Fergal Boland for Loftus (52 mins); Aiden Orme for McLoughlin (58 mins); Pádraig O’Hora for O’Shea (64 mins); Jason Doherty for C O’Connor (70 mins); Paul Towey for Orme (blood) (73 mins).

Kerry: Shane Ryan; Graham O’Sullivan (0-1), Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan (0-3); Brian Ó Beaglaoích, Tadhg Morley, Gavin White; David Moran (0-2), Diarmuid O’Connor; Dara Moynihan, Seán O’Shea (0-3, one free), Stephen O’Brien (0-1); Paudie Clifford, David Clifford (1-3, one free, two marks), Paul Geaney (0-4, one mark).

Subs: Killian Spillane (0-1) for Moynihan (48 mins); Paul Murphy for Ó Beaglaíoch (58 mins); Micheál Burns for O’Brien (58 mins); Joe O’Connor for D O’Connor (65 mins); Tony Brosnan for D Clifford (68 mins); Gavin Crowley for Foley (blood)(72 mins).

Referee: David Gough (Meath)

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times