The old cliché of – “it was a game of two halves” could not be more appropriate when describing events between Mayo and Kerry last Sunday in round five of the Allianz league.
Agonisingly for Mayo, they came up short, losing by a single point on a scoreline of 1-14 to 1-13, despite a heroic second half performance. Nearing the end of the first half, Mayo found themselves nine points adrift at one stage as Kerry totally dominated proceedings, leading by 1-08 to 0-2 - but two late Kevin McLoughlin frees made the deficit look a bit more manageable - but certainly not looking feasible - the way Mayo had played in the opening thirty five. The half time whistle couldn't have come any quicker.
Mayo couldn't have got off to a worse possible start as a misplaced Keith Higgins pass was intercepted by Dara Moynihan to allow Sean O'Shea walk around David Clarke to tap in a goal in the first two minutes of the game.
The game would have been well and truly over as a contest had David Clifford found the net from the penalty spot shortly after, but his rasper of a shot came back off the crossbar much to the relief of the Mayo faithful. Mayo were in deep trouble all over the field. The Kerry half back line tormented us and were the springboard for almost every attack, while Kerry's Diarmuid O'Connor was ruling the skies.
Time after time, Gavin White tore down the stand side of MacHale Park into the Albany end, accelerating away from whatever Mayo player was in chase. White had a sensational first half, setting up score after score for Kerry while fisting one over himself in the process.
At half time everyone feared the worst, a pasting of a biblical magnitude looked like it was on the cards. Tom Parsons was our only first half scorer from play. Mayo had only registered 0-4 and conceded 1-08 despite playing with the elements. Mayo found themselves seven points down playing with the strong breeze on our backs.
Second half surge
Most envisaged a cricket score winning margin for the Kingdom - such was the lethargic first half showing. James Horan rang the changes, making three half time subs. On came Eoin O'Donoghue, Eoghan McLaughlin and Tommy Conroy to add a bit of pace and zest to the cause. Led brilliantly by Mayo captain for the year- Aidan O'Shea and the never tiring Diarmuid O'Connor, Mayo set about reducing the deficit.
Every player upped their performance. Mayo pressed high and tackled like their life depended on it, very often turning over ball high up the field, much to the delight of the Mayo supporters in the 8,069 crowd. Eoghan McLaughlin’s brilliant goal brought us right back into it but we just couldn't restore parity. Keith Higgins had a glorious chance to level matters in injury time but scuffed his shot across the Kerry goal.
There was just enough time to take the kick out before whistle-happy referee, Martin McNally, blew the final whistle. Mayo certainly restored a bit of pride in the jersey with that second half performance, taking Kerry for 1-09 playing against the wind.
More novice players getting valuable game time is always a positive. Oisin Mullin looks right at home at this level while Eoghan McLaughlin can be proud of his contribution of 1-1 in the second half. Paul Towey too got more minutes under his belt striking a fine free under pressure. James Horan & Co will be wondering what happened in that first half, it's one of those great mysterys. You won’t see Kerry squandering a big lead very often, it's a shame we didn't catch them.
Results don't go in our favour
Results elsewhere have made our job of staying in division one a real uphill struggle. I had pencilled a final day shoot-out against Tyrone as the defining point in Mayo’s 2020 league campaign but their shock win against Dublin has put paid to that statement.
That game was played in the most atrocious conditions in Omagh on Saturday night, despite all the weather warnings. How a team can go from one week losing to Galway by 19 points to beating the All-Ireland champions the following week, is anyone’s guess.
Donegal relieved a bit of pressure on themselves with a relatively straightforward win against Monaghan in a dour contest, while Galway's win in Navan against Meath sees the royals relegated with two games to spare and the tribesmen now top of the pile. Taking those results into account, Mayo will need at the minimum three points from their last two games and other results to go our way to maintain our proud stay in the top flight.
Mullin and Irwin to try their luck down under
The unwelcome news arrived that Oisin Mullin is heading down under for a two week trial with up to three different AFL clubs, after impressing at a recent draft trial. By all accounts he was very impressive in a lot of the testing methods the Aussies use to gauge a player's athleticism, to see if they're capable of adapting to their game.
It will come as a blow to Mayo if he is given a contract as he has been one of our most impressive performers in this year's league. He will be joined at the trials by Frank Irwin, son of Mayo's 1989 All-Ireland final goalie, Gabriel. It's any young players dream to play sport at a professional level and I'd like to wish both players the best of luck at the trials - but not really - if you catch my drift.