Battle hardened, but now battle scared

GAA: All Ireland Senior Football Championship

Hard to handle: Brendan Harrision had his hands full with Kerry's David Clifford last Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile

Hard to handle: Brendan Harrision had his hands full with Kerry's David Clifford last Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile

In the Kingdom of Kerry they pride themselves on their hospitality to tourists - and while they welcome the thousands of day trippers and weekend breakers who make the journey down the Wild Atlantic Way, last weekend there was a far less hospitable greeting for The Boys from County Mayo who came down to play a game against their boys in the shadow of the McGillycuddy Reeks.

The centre of the town was throbbing from early morning as the locals welcomed the visitors and the local publicans were even more gracious in their greetings. The sun decided to put on its best showing - with the sweltering heat only adding to the sense of occasion on the day.

It even necessitated the sale of quickly melting ice-creams from cardboard boxes by hawkers as they passed through the ground, a sight once commonly seen on big match days, but one that has vanished in recent years in parts around here; but it offered a temporary welcome cooling interjection for the factor-50 lathered throngs who packed themselves in around the three sides of the ground that offered no shelter from the sun. Some enterprising folk did make use of the shelter under the scoreboard on the gravel embankment end of the ground that Mayo attacked into the first half.

There was no similar shelter for Mayo on the field of action though. The outcome of this game was hard to call in the build-up - agreed almost everyone. Sure, Mayo were coming into it on the back of three tough outings over the previous three weekends - but they had got over those games and in the process scratched one serious itch they couldn't get rid off for the past few years - beating Galway. Injuries had been mounting, but Lee Keegan had managed to come back quicker than was expected, Cillian O'Connor was back in full service and Seamus O'Shea had gotten some game time into his legs the week before so things were looking good. But one casualty from that Galway victory wasn't able to make it back and the loss of Paddy Durcan from availability was another jenga piece removed that put Mayo under serious pressure.

Another piece of the jenga tower that if removed would see the whole thing come crashing down, was what Kerry side would show up. While they might have tried to apply the balm to their wounds that it was only the league when Mayo beat them twice previously this year - those wins stung them, both at home in Tralee and then again in Croke Park.

Kerry had this one lined up for a big performance and they had time to prepare for it after their Munster title victory over Cork three weeks earlier. They had plenty of time to work on their game plans, rest and recuperate and wait to execute. The locals bought into it too and came out in their droves, fearful that the Mayo's travelling cavalcade of supporters would outnumber them on their own patch in the height of Summer - that might be fine for league finals in Spring in Croke Park, but not for the real stuff of summer.

On the field they choked the life out of Mayo from the tenth minute on and had all but the slates on the roof of their victory laid before the short whistle. With eight minutes gone, Kerry led 0-4 to 0-3 at the end of an entertaining opening few minutes, but from then to the 31st minute, they hit Mayo for ten points without reply.

In that period they hemmed Mayo into their half, pushing up on David Clarke's kick-out and forcing the Ballina man to go long far more often than he would have liked into an area that Kerry had pinpointed for domination; and in David Moran they dominated with the Kerins O'Rahilly's man plucking balls from the sky for fun.

Mayo just couldn't get to the pitch of the game, due to a combination of this being their fourth week-in-a-row on the bounce playing a huge game, the injury list getting a little bit bigger, the sweltering heat, along with Kerry being (not that anyone really needed reminding ) a very, very good side and one that possesses top class players - as well as one that has the potential to be a once-in-a-generation genius in the shape of David Clifford.

There was one bright note for the Mayo faithful, with Cillian O'Connor becoming the leading all-time scorer in the All Ireland senior football championship, overtaking Colm 'Gooch' Cooper on the Kerry man's own patch. It's an amazing achievement for the 27-year-old Ballintubber man and he'll have plenty more years left in him to keep stretching out the gap he has now established from all the rest.

Sunday's trip to Croke Park represents a must-win game for Mayo if they are to have any hope of making it out of the group and into the All Ireland semi-finals. Meath will be no pushovers - as they showed for long periods against Donegal last Sunday. Speaking of the Ulster men, the Mayo faithful will be looking for our hosts from last weekend to do us a favour and pick up their second win in as many weeks, leaving it an all-to-play-for affair in Castlebar on Saturday, August 5, when the Ulster champions come to town.

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