When all looked lost, they stood up and were counted and when it looked like it might slip through their grasp right at the end lady luck shined on Mayo when Bryan Sheehan's last gasp free from well behind the 45m line dropped short of the target.
From four points and man down at half time, Mayo found themselves five points clear with five minutes to go and still at the death almost lost it. Being a Mayo supporter at times isn't good for the heart, but one thing that can't be questioned is the heart of the 20 men who took to the field in red and green in Croke Park last Sunday evening, they gave their all and when they were asked to stand up and be counted they gave it their all in every area of the field. When James O'Donoghue kicked Kerry into a 0-10 to 0-5 lead a few seconds into the second half, it looked like it could be game up for Mayo, but inspired by the likes of Kevin McLoughlin who was forced back to wing-back following Lee Keegan's red card for an apparent kick out at Johnny Buckley two minutes before the break along with Alan Dillon, Aidan O'Shea, Colm Boyle and Andy Moran Mayo refused to wilt in the face of what looked like an insurmountable challenge.
Dillon kicked a point that was quickly followed by a Cillian O'Connor free. Paul Murphy pushed the gap back out to four points, but Mayo came back again. O'Connor pointed another free after Dillon was fouled, then Colm Boyle broke through two challenges before he drove the ball over the bar. Dillon cut the gap back to a single point when he was found by a great O'Connor pass. Dillon's point was one of the great scores of the championship, when he whipped it right footed over the bar from a tight angle out on the Cusack Stand side of the field. Dillon returned the favour and picked out O'Connor and he slipped the ball between the uprights and leveled the game up at 0-11 each with 16 minutes on the clock.
Kerry hit back with Donnchadh Walsh pointing after a neat move involving Stephen O'Brien and Paul Geaney created space for the Cromane man to split the uprights. Andy Moran set up Jason Doherty for a point two minutes later as the game moved through the gears. James O'Donoghue had a great chance to score a goal, when the ball went through the grasp of Colm Boyle and he had open country in front of him and Robbie Hennelly's goal. But the Killarney-Legion man drove his effort high and over the bar to the relief of the Mayo defence. Andy Moran responded with a great score after he was found by Dillon. The two old stagers from battles with Kerry in the past, really stepped up once again today and showed real leadership when needed on the field.
Not long after that Mayo got the break their second half performance deserved. Seamus O'Shea drove with the ball through the heat of the Kerry defence, he picked out Donal Vaughan who broke for goal and he was dragged down by Peter Crowley and David Coldrick had no qualms in awarding the penalty. Cillian O'Connor stepped up and drove the ball to the back of the net and Mayo were three to the good with 12 minutes left on the clock. O'Connor pointed from play and added on another from a free and Mayo looked to have the game won. But Kerry weren't going to bend the knee that easily. Kieran Donaghy who had tormented Mayo in the past was introduced and the Austin Stack's man was going to have a pivotal role in the outcome of the game. Peter Crowley fisted the ball over the bar from a tight angle and brought the gap back to four. Andy Moran with the aid of a hawk-eye decision pushed Mayo five clear again, before Bryan Sheehan tapped over a free. With three minutes left on the clock, David Moran drove the ball into Donaghy who won it over the head of Ger Cafferkey and laid off the pass into the path of O'Donoghue who made no mistake this time and drove the ball past Robbie Hennelly to leave just one between the teams. Mayo were living on their nerves at this stage and despite forcing Kerry out from the danger area, the Kingdom were still able to engineer a shooting chance for Kieran O'Leary and the Dr Crokes man nailed it under pressure. There was still time for one late, late chance for Kerry when they won a free out under the Cusack Stand, but thankfully for Mayo it was just out of Sheehan's range and they lived to fight another day.
The first half was one of the most disjointed performances from Mayo for a long time as they failed to get into the rhythm of the game with Kerry taking their chances while Mayo failed to convert their own kicking seven wides with Cillian O'Connor kicking four of them. Both sides went point for point with each other in the first 14 minutes before Kerry took started to take control and Mayo's half went from bad to worse three minutes before the break when Keegan got his marching orders, just after the Westport man had managed to kick a rallying point with the help of the post. Mayo went in at the break trailing by 0-9 to 0-5 and a man down, but they were able to work out what the needed to in the dressing room at the break and led by the likes of the exceptional Aidan O'Shea who drove Mayo on time after time when they needed to find a footing in the game. It's all back to Limerick this coming Saturday night for what promises to be a game not to be missed.
Mayo: C O'Connor 1-8 (1pen, 0-5 free ); A Dillon (0-3 ), A Moran (0-2 ), J Doherty (0-1 ), C Boyle (0-1 ), L Keegan (0-1 )
Kerry: J O'Donoghue (1-3 ),D Walsh (0-2 ) D Moran (0-1 ), P Murphy (0-1 ), P Crowley (0-10, F Fitzgerald (0-1 ), M Geaney (0-1 ), J Buckley (0-1 ), S O'Brien (0-1 ), P Geaney (0-1, 1f ), B Sheehan (0-1, 1f ), K O'Leary (0-1 )
Mayo: R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle; J Gibbons, S O'Shea; K McLoughlin, A O'Shea, J Doherty; C O'Connor, A Freeman, A Dillon. Subs: T Parsons for J Gibbons; A Moran for A Freeman, M Conroy for J Doherty, M Sweeney for A Dillon, K Keane for G Cafferkey.
Kerry: B Kelly; M O'Sé, A O'Mahony, S Enright; P Murphy, P Crowley, F Fitzgerald; A Maher, D Moran; M Geaney, J Buckley, D Walsh; S O'Brien, P Geaney, J O'Donoghue. Subs: Declan O'Sullivan for S O'Brien, B Sheehan for M Geaney, K Young for A O'Mahony, K Donaghy for A Maher, BJ Keane for J Buckley, K O'Leary for D Walsh