Kieran Donaghy’s arrival saves the day for the Kingdom

Eamonn Fitzmaurice forced to resort to the last throw of the dice to keep magnificent 14-man Mayo at bay in the second half

Kerry’s Kieran Donaghy and Barry John Keane celebrate their side’s successful late comeback which earned a draw against Mayo at Croke Park. Photo: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Kerry’s Kieran Donaghy and Barry John Keane celebrate their side’s successful late comeback which earned a draw against Mayo at Croke Park. Photo: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

Considering Kerry’s dominance in the first half and how poorly Mayo performed, this was a great escape for the Connacht champions. However, they might struggle to see it that way this morning.

Particularly in midfield, Mayo struggled as Anthony Maher and David Moran took initial control. But Aidan O’Shea grew into the game, producing a magnificent performance that eclipsed everyone. And that compliment grows when you consider Moran refused to wilt, even if Maher faded late on.

O’Shea stood up as a leader in the second half. His ability to hold up the ball and put team-mates into space makes him the fundamental cog in this team. What Mayo certainly proved is they have the stomach for the fight. That shone through yesterday.

Still, tactically, they were exposed. Mayo are at their best when they run at their opponents, when the likes of Colm Boyle, Donal Vaughan, the O’Shea brothers and Kevin McLoughlin cut loose.

Their trademark pass off the shoulder to put a player bursting into space hurt Kerry the most. It got them the penalty. It so nearly won them the game.

But they struggled at the start. Not Keith Higgins though, who did as well as any man could when man-marking James O’Donoghue. The fault for the goal wasn’t on Higgins as much as it was on the Mayo management leaving Ger Cafferkey alone with Kieran Donaghy.

Big plays

There was a naivety to Mayo’s approach and again they failed to close out a game.

There is the counter argument that Mayo were down to 14 men and had lost their talisman Lee Keegan but they will be punished once again if Cafferkey and Donaghy are left together in the replay.

The red card was justified. Keegan was all wrong to use the boot. He has only himself to blame. That should never happen. Discipline is key in this environment.

They looked a beaten team at half-time but something must have happened underneath the Hogan Stand because the resilient response was magnificent. It shows the journey they have been on together for so many years now. There is sheer character coursing through the team.

Take Andy Moran. The management, to their credit, knew the lift he would generate when introduced on 48 minutes.

The bottom line though was Kerry’s refusal to be beaten. There was a clear intent to die with their boots on. But sending Donaghy inside was the last throw of the dice by Éamonn Fitzmaurice. It paid off.

Donaghy’s performance was even more special considering his lack of game time.

Leaving him out of the team next Saturday will be difficult but I would hold him off again. The value of his arrival cancels out Moran’s impact down the other end. Also, quick ball into space still seems like the best way of breaking through Mayo’s defence.

At least Fitzmaurice knows Donaghy is still a valuable weapon for Kerry.

In contrast, the lack of mobility of both Declan O’Sullivan and Bryan Sheehan was obvious. They weren’t fit. I can’t see either man starting the replay – even factoring in the lack of experience in this Kerry’s starting 15.

New plans

That’s offset by Keegan’s removal from the equation. In the meantime Richie Feeney might be the solution there but Keegan’s value to Mayo is immense.

Kerry didn’t make enough use of the numerical advantage. Mayo ran themselves into the ground to mask the problem with Colm Boyle being the best example of this.

Whoever gets through the replay will have an advantage over the winners from Dublin and Donegal. This game will be of more use than any number of training sessions ahead of the All-Ireland final.

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