Kerry and Mayo to go at it again after epic stalemate
Kerry 2-14 Mayo 2-14
All back to the Big House on Saturday night, for another instalment of these games that make you sick with nerves after Mayo and Kerry could not be separated after 80 plus minutes. It's enough to make you giddy.
There can be few sports that are subject to the same rigours of self-analysis as Gaelic football. The prevailing narrative nowadays is that the season is routinely saved by a series of epics such as these from the semi-finals on.
To that, we say Praise the Lord. There is only so much the heart can take.
It started in the second minute of the game when Mayo attacker Aidan O'Shea drifted back to pick up Kerry's full-forward talisman Kieran Donaghy. A sign of robbing Peter to pay Paul perhaps, but Mayo's habit of leaking goals needed to be addressed, even if this sounded like a madcap idea from the mouth of prominent Mayo pundit David Brady in midweek.
Did it work? Not really, as Donaghy played the game as ever on his own terms. Before a ball would be kicked in, he would shove O'Shea and make space for himself, giving the impression he was winning all the races for the ball.
O'Shea felt it was better to leave Donaghy to win it and then engage. But when Donaghy turned neatly and played in Stephen O'Brien for a goal on 12 minutes, the most he could hope for was to break even, which, he didn't quite manage over the course of the contest.
That goal had cancelled out a sensational Mayo start on five minutes when a Diarmuid O'Connor diagonal ball bounced off his brother Cillian and into the path of the 33-year-old veteran Andy Moran who banged home from close range.
Moran was to be the most prominent figure in this game, scoring a personal tally of 1-5 all from play and torturing Shane Enright as the teams drew level nine times throughout.
Despite the early goal concession, Kerry played themselves back into it before the second Mayo goal arrived. Colm Boyle found himself in an advanced position and used Lee Keegan as a decoy to get around Mark Griffin before blasting home.
Cillian O'Connor then got on the scoresheet as Mayo pressed home their advantage and the Ballintubber man then attempted a shot on goal that Kerry goalkeeper Brian Kelly parried. After a spell of goalmouth pinball, another Moran effort was deflected over the bar by Shane Enright.
It was around this time that what happens in Mayo games, happened. Tactics, match-ups, ploys, they all go out the window. It always comes down to guts and mistakes and sometimes that sense of full-bloodedness costs them. Especially as the first half drew to a close and they coughed up three frees to Paul Geaney while Kieran Donaghy tapped over another.
The final word was left with Moran to square it up for Mayo at 2-5 to 1-8 at half-time.
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice never dwells on the sideline. Seeing Keith Higgins exert an influence as a sweeper early on, he instructed Michael Geaney to hug the sideline, effectively eliminating Higgins, until he sent on the young flyer Jack Savage to give them another challenge to think of.
Fitzmaurice's opposite number Stephen Rochford then abandoned the ploy and went man for man.
Mayo enjoyed a run of four consecutive points to open up a three-point gap. Moran was at his clever best to send Tom Parsons away for a fisted point and Cillian O'Connor was really warming to his task. But then Mayo did what the Gods decree Mayo must do. A speculative ball in towards Donaghy fell kindly for the onrushing David Moran who didn't even have to break his stride. His shot was stopped brilliantly by David Clarke but Johnny Buckley was alive to the rebound and stuffed it into the net. Advantage cancelled.
By this stage, Colm Boyle's full-bloodedness was costing Mayo frees so Rochford sent on Paddy Durcan, always a handy man to pick up the odd crucial point. But both sides were giving up chances. At one stage Jack Barry played a long-range 1-2 with Kieran Donaghy and got off a shot that Clarke was equal to.
It was nip and tuck until two consecutive scores - the second a highlight with Moran fisting on a ball to O'Connor who cut inside to take the lead with 10 minutes remaining.
Kerry hadn't had a single score from their bench until Fitzmaurice sent on Barry John Keane who scored with his very first touch. Mayo's defensive group tackle was functioning to some degree, but Paul Murphy popped up to put Kerry one ahead with a minute of normal time remaining.
With four minutes of injury time, that man Paddy Durcan put an end to three Mayo wides in ten minutes to level.
It was going down to the final kickout.
Kerry goalkeeper Brian Kelly went long. Mayo's Tom Parsons caught it cleanly. But they lost possession and a searching ball found substitute Bryan Sheehan. Donie Vaughan was experienced enough to clatter into him and concede the free.
55 yards out is nothing to Sheehan really. But the occasion, the pressure, the conditions, whatever. He forced the kick, and it fell into the grateful hands of Aidan O'Shea. 8/1 were the odds on a draw.
Next weekend will be another of those special Croke Park weekends. The Saturday night lights will be on for Kerry and Mayo once more. The long-range forecast predicts showers so it will be another game decided on the slip of a stud, the misplacement of a single handpass.
Kerry: Kelly; Enright, Griffin, Young 0-1; Crowley, Morley, Murphy 0-1; Moran, Maher; Geaney, Buckley 1-0, O'Brien 1-0; Geaney 0-7, 4f, Donaghy 0-1, O'Donoghue 0-3, 2f
Subs: Savage for Geaney (22), Barry for Maher, Lyne for Griffin (H-time), O'Sullivan for Buckley (54), Keane 0-1 for O'Donoghue (62), Sheehan for Donaghy (72)
Yellow cards: Murphy (27), Savage (33), Crowley (36), Moran (59), O'Sullivan (67)
Mayo: Clarke; Harrison, O'Shea, Higgins; Keegan, Barrett, Boyle 1-0; O'Shea, Parsons 0-2; McLoughlin, Vaughan 0-1, O'Connor; Doherty 0-1, O'Connor 0-4, 1f, Moran 1-5
Subs: Durcan 0-1 for Boyle (44), Coen for S O'Shea (59), Drake for O'Connor (67), Loftus for Doherty (73)
Yellow cards: McLoughlin (33), Vaughan (67)