Kerry and Mayo do their level best but can’t be parted

Sides will meet again at Croke Park next Saturday to decide All-Ireland final spot

Kerry 2-14 Mayo 2-14

Crazy dreams don’t come much louder than this. Because just when it seemed it over was for another year, Mayo rose again at the death of this relentless All-Ireland football semi-final to force a draw with Kerry and keep that dream alive for another week at least.

So both teams will be back in Croke Park next Saturday afternoon (3pm throw-in) and on the evidence of this all predictions must carry a warning sign: anything can and probably will happen before it comes to decide who will be back there again on the third Sunday in September.

Kerry, it seemed, had called on all their experience – and every ounce of tradition that comes with it – to go one point clear as the final minute of normal time approached, Paul Geaney passed off to Paul Murphy who chipped over what looked like being the winner.

That's because Mayo's best chance of an equaliser in the five minutes of added time was sent wide for Paddy Durcan, only for him to then make amends with his next effort, on 74 minutes, bringing the sides level again for the ninth time.

Still it seemed the Mayo dream might die when Bryan Sheehan, just on the field, stood over a 55-metre free he would normally send over in his sleep. Only this time it didn’t even make the distance, or the target, and when Mayo held up the final possession that was that. Incredible, but true.

The reply will be Mayo’s ninth game this summer, and keeps alive too their hopes of reaching the All-Ireland final for the fourth time in six seasons.

Mayo played as if they had everything and nothing to lose, refusing to surrender to Kerry even when at times it appeared they may well be about it. Energised beyond words, spirit soaring, they repeatedly defied their ultra marathon of a summer – this already being Mayo’s eighth game, double what was required of Kerry to get to this same stage.

It all made for a boundless game brushed throughout with absorbing tactical strokes, and for a long time will be remembered as the day Mayo put Aidan O'Shea on Kieran Donaghy. All played out under floodlights too, and the last remnants of Hurricane Gert and before a captivated audience of 66,195. And high water everywhere.

Level at half-time, Mayo 2-5 to Kerry's 1-8, the second half turned into a battle of hearts and minds and sheer will to win. Mayo had hit four early points in a row, including a pistol shot from Donal Vaughan, and not for the first time in the game were bossing matters.

And not for the first Kerry suddenly bossed them back – David Moran's motoring run and then shot at goal was sent into the Mayo net on the rebound by Johnny Buckley. Paul Geaney won the kick-out and just like that Kerry were in front again, on 45 minutes.

Come the hour mark, and still no distance could keep them apart – the teams locked together for the seventh time at 2-12 each. Tom Parsons drew Mayo level with his second from play, and that set up the hectic last 10 minutes which refused to settle on a winner.

Tactically, the game hinged from the throw-in, O’Shea dropped back to mark Donaghy, a tell-tale sign it seemed of Mayo playing a more defensive game. Donaghy won the first ball, and already it seemed the O’Shea match-up looked misaligned. Donaghy won five of the first six balls played into his territory.

Only soon, and without warning, Mayo detonated the game. Diarmuid O'Connor swept the ball in from the Cusack Stand end, and with the Kerry defence cross-wired, Andy Moran grabbed possession and belted the ball into the Kerry net. The excellent Jason Doherty promptly tacked on an after score and just like that Mayo were four points down the road.

And just like that Kerry were back level with them: after Paul Geaney's free, Donaghy hopped on a Séamus O'Shea turnover, passed slickly to Stephen O'Brien, and bang – level at 1-2 apiece. A brilliant point from Killian Young and James O'Donoghue and Kerry briefly went to clear.

The lead, in possession and momentum, was still with Mayo, their forwards repeatedly cutting apart Kerry's defence like putting scissors to a piece of string. Andy Moran helped himself to another point, before a neat succession of passes was wrapped up by Colm Boyle with a beautifully composed goal. Cillian O'Connor added his first point and Mayo went three clear.

The tactical showdowns elsewhere continued: Paul Murphy, under clear instruction to halt Lee Keegan by all legal means possible, played that part to the letter. Keegan was hardly seen in the first half.

By the end of it, Kerry were level again, Paul Geaney’s third free on 33 minutes bringing them level again; Donaghy had laid his hand on 1-3 of Kerry’s scores in the first half alone, O’Shea’s influence essentially non-existent.

Of course it keeps alive Kerry’s dream too, Éamonn Fitzmaurice, is in his fifth season as Kerry manager, has never lost to any county other than Dublin. All and everything to play for again Saturday.

KERRY: 1 Brian Kelly; 2 Shane Enright, 4 Killian Young (0-1), 3 Mark Griffin; 5 Peter Crowley, 7 Paul Murphy (0-1), 6 Tadhg Morley; 8 David Moran, 9 Anthony Maher; 10 Michael Geaney, 11 Johnny Buckley (capt; 1-0), 12 Stephen O'Brien (1-0); 13 Paul Geaney (0-7, four frees), 14 Kieran Donaghy (0-1), 15 James O'Donoghue (0-3, two frees).

Subs: 21 Jack Savage for M Geaney (22 mins), 17 Jack Barry for Maher (half-time), 20 Jonathan Lyne for Griffin (half-time), 22 Darran O'Sullivan for Buckley (55 mins), 19 Barry John Keane (0-1) for O'Donoghue (62 mins), 25 Bryan Sheehan for Donaghy (73 mins).

MAYO: 1 David Clarke; 6 Chris Barrett, 11 Aidan O'Shea, 2 Brendan Harrison; 7 Colm Boyle (1-0), 3 Donal Vaughan (0-1), 4 Keith Higgins; 8 S O'Shea, 9 Tom Parsons (0-2); 10 Kevin McLoughlin , 5 Lee Keegan, 12 Diarmuid O'Connor; 13 Jason Doherty (0-1), 14 Cillian O'Connor (0-4, one free), 15 Andy Moran (1-5).

Subs: 18 Paddy Durcan (0-1) for Boyle (43 mins), 17 Stephen Coen for S O'Shea (62 mins), 20 David Drake for D O'Connor (68 mins), 23 Conor Loftus for Doherty (74 mins).

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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