Mayo hand Kerry humbling defeat with rock’n’roll performance in Castlebar

David Clifford and Seán O’Shea came on at half-time with their team trailing by 11 points

Mayo 2-14 Kerry 1-10

Kevin McStay had no desire to overstate the result and certainly not now. A first Mayo win over Kerry in five attempts won’t be remembered for long if it doesn’t carry some weight beyond February.

Jack O’Connor described it as a chastening experience and in many ways it was. A second league defeat in three starts, the first time Kerry have conceded two goals since O’Connor’s third coming as manager.

It proved a quietly startling night of football on the western front. Rarely if ever have Kerry, as All-Ireland and league champions, been handed as humbling a defeat as this, Mayo utterly delighting the home crowd with a style of football at times dressed up as pure rock’n’roll.

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When, 11 down points at half-time, O’Connor called on Kerry’s heavyweight reserves, David Clifford and Seán O’Shea, the impact was expected to be fast and furious. It wasn’t. Mayo pressed on, briefly going 13 points up before Kerry eventually brought some respect to their scoreline, Barry O’Sullivan scoring their goal from close distance as the clock spilled into added time.

“I don’t want to over-pump this now”, said McStay. “It’s two points, and there was a real sense that Kerry were going to perhaps lay down a marker, so we took that challenge on full-tilt.”

“So we are two points closer to safe and that’s very important to us, that we hold our Division One status. The second half got a bit patchier, I do accept that, but we still put them under pressure all the time, we didn’t back off and we got some strong finishers onto the pitch.”

Indeed they did: James Carr was electric, finishing with 1-3, one of seven different scorers on the night, each as impressive as the next. Aidan O’Shea didn’t score, only played a hand in several, one of his best February shows in quite some time.

When Mayo went 13 points up – and that’s no misprint – early in the second half, Carr adding two from play in succession, it was already their night. Jordan Flynn, industrious throughout, scoring three from play in the first half, Ryan O’Donoghue playing his best football in that half too, and like Carr finishing with 1-3.

“They are working on their skills every night and a lot is ball-orientated stuff obviously,” McStay added. “We are trying to be clever at those skills that you need to be, and get us in front of the goal more often – it’s a nicer place to be shooting from! It’s a thing everyone thinks about, we are not geniuses at this, but everyone wants to shoot from in front of the goal.”

Once introduced, Clifford did point with his first shot at goal, adding two more from play, O’Shea adding a point and a free too. Still they couldn’t get anywhere back within striking distance, even if Mayo spent some 20 minutes of that half without a score, mostly keeping Kerry at bay, before goalkeeper Colm Reape coolly slotted over his second 45.

In front of another wildly enthusiastic crowd 15,726, the traditionalist rivals were soon set apart, Kerry softly killing themselves by conceding 14 turnovers in the first half alone, scoring only three of 12 scoring chances in that same period.

“The scoreboard,” O’Connor deadpanned when asked what disappointed him most about that first half. “Ah look, Mayo are clearly at a higher pitch than us at the minute. That is manifesting itself in many ways. They were sharper out to the ball. They were putting pressure on our fellas. The ball wasn’t sticking inside, we were snatching at chances.”

“You can’t press the fast-forward button. Fitness takes a bit of time and sharpness takes a bit of time. Unfortunately we have to try and get work into the lads while at the same time trying to be competitive. That’s the challenge.”

Aidan O’Shea was prancing around the inside forward line, as unpredictable as Jim Morrison on stage, capable of anything; Carr set the tone of his game by striking a brilliant mark, then straightaway came their first goal, after nine minutes: Pa Warren was dispossessed from the kick-out by O’Donoghue, who promptly tore towards the Kerry goal and made no mistake at his finish.

Midway through the half, Tadhg Morley gave up the ball, Diarmuid O’Connor deftly passing to James Carr, left of the Kerry goal, his finish into the bottom left corner a thing of real beauty. Mayo were up 2-4 to 0-2 and Kerry were in chaos.

O’Shea turned provider again with a sensational kick-pass to O’Donoghue, who duly converted the mark, and when O’Connor scored from play, Mayo were up by 11 points, 2-7 to 0-2. Kerry did out-score Mayo in the second half, 1-7 to 0-6, the result nonetheless convincing.

“It is not an experience you enjoy any time,” O’Connor mused. “We were well off it. Particularly in the first half. I know, I’ve said this consistently, we were late back training which was understandable after the All-Ireland. We showed a bit of heart in the second half, but the game was won at that stage.”

MAYO: C Reape (0-2, two 45s): D McBrien, R Brickenden, E Hession; S Coen, C Loftus, D McHugh (0-1); M Ruane, D O’Connor (0-1); F McDonagh, J Carney (0-1), J Flynn (0-3); A O’Shea, J Carr (1-3, one mark), R O’Donoghue (1-3, one mark). Subs: B Tuohy for O’Connor (35 mins, inj), C O’Connor for McDonagh, J Coyne for Brickenden (both 51 mins), C McStay for Carr (64 mins), P Durcan for Coen (66 mins).

KERRY: S Murphy: G O’Sullivan, J Foley, T O’Sullivan; P Warren, T Morley, P Murphy (0-1); J Barry, B O’Sullivan (1-0); D Moynihan (0-1), P Clifford; M Burns; T Brosnan (0-1), D Roche (0-2, one free), D O’Sullivan. Subs: D Clifford (0-3) for O’Sullivan, S O’Shea (0-2, one free) for Burns, D Casey for Warren (all half-time) S Okunbor for Roche (56 mins), K Spillane for P Clifford (64 mins).

Referee: Seán Hurson (Tyrone).

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics