There was nothing more they could give. It may be seen as cliched to say they gave blood, sweat and tears, but that's exactly what was every single man in red and green left on the field in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick on Saturday.
The game will go down in history as James Horan's last stand as a Mayo manager, but what an innings he's had. In four years, he brought a team and a county from the abyss to two All Ireland finals and two semi-finals. While the ultimate prize may still be out of reach for the sons of Mayo, we've come a long way in four years and for that James Horan and all his management team must be thanked. One of the most poignant scenes amongst all the madness going on in the frantic final few minutes of the game, was the sight of the two old warriors Alan Dillon and Andy Moran standing side-by-side on the sideline, their game was done for the day. They watched together as Mayo tried to force the goal they needed, unable to help their team-mates get over the line they needed, with bibs over their jerseys and longing in their hearts.
It wasn't to be for Mayo, but what it was, was epic, heroic, frustrating and a non-stop emotional beating. Mayo can rightly feel that the big calls went against them from referee Cormac Reilly, no more so than his decision to not give Shane Enright either a black or second yellow card for his foul on Cillian O'Connor that gave Mayo their penalty 17 minutes into the game. The Tarbert man had already picked up a yellow card in the fifth minute alongside O'Connor for some off the ball jostling. Had Reilly dished out either of the cards, Kerry would have been reduced to 14-men. Instead Eamon Fitzmaurice whipped Enright off four minutes later and replaced him the with the experienced Marc O'Sé. The An Gaeltacht man went on to have a serious impact in the game both in defence and attack where he also got on the scoreboard landing a point in the 50th minute. Mayo were also severely hampered when Aidan O'Shea and Cillian O'Connor ran into each other late in the first half and both men had to spent lengthy spells on the sideline recovering.
While it was a game that for long periods looked like there was no rhyme or reason to it, there were duals all over the field that you couldn't keep your eyes of. No more so that the battle between Keith Higgins and James O'Donoghue, it was a battle for the ages. O'Donoghue the star forward of the year against the tenacious, touch-tight Higgins. The Ballyhaunis man made three goal saving blocks on the Killarney Legion man during the game (it was unfortunate that one of them spun into the path of Kieran Donaghy for Kerry's first goal ) and he forced O'Donoghue round and round the corner on a number of occasions. It was like watching two champion boxers going round for round, leaving it up to the dam'n judges to make the decision.
As for what happened on the field, it was end to end stuff Kerry started the brightest and if they had their shooting boots on should have been four or five points clear inside the opening 15 minutes, but they only lead by 0-2 to 0-1 with Cillian O'Connor opening the scoring for Mayo and Paul Geaney and James O'Donoghue replying for the Kingdom. O'Connor stroked home from the penalty sport after 17 minutes and then mayo went on to add on another 1-2 from the Ballintubber man in the next five minutes, his second goal Mayo's first score from play. Genaey hit back for Kerry, before Kieran Donaghy found the back of the net seven minutes before the break. Jason Doherty replied for Mayo with a sweet effort after a move built from the back involving Seamus O'Shea, Tom Cunniffe, Aidan O'Shea and Andy Moran before he laid it off to the Burrishoole man. Doherty added on another before the break, with Killian Young and Paul Geaney each adding on one more for Kerry to sent Mayo in leading by 2-5 to 1-5.
Alan Freeman pointed after being introduced at the break as a blood sub, before Kerry hit Mayo for 1-3 with out response. The goal coming from an O'Donoghue penalty after the Donaghy was hauled the ground inside the area after Michael Geaney drove in a sideline ball on top of the Austin Stacks man. The goal was followed by a Marc Ó'Sé point to put Kerry two clear. Andy Moran was next up to rustle the net when he profited after a long ball in was spit by Brian Kelly under pressure and Mayo were back in the lead. It was break neck stuff at this stage. O'Donoghue pointed for Kerry then Andy Moran and Cillian O'Connor responded with points for Mayo. Doherty kicked his third point of the day, before O'Donoghue hit back for Kerry. Then Mayo were hit with a real sicker when Ger Cafferkey was adjudged to have fouled O'Donoghue as he broke for goal and Kerry were awarded their second penalty. The Legion man buried it and Kerry were leading 3-11 to 3-9 with time running out. Michael Conroy pointed from a tight angle and with time ticking down Donal Vaughan fisted over the bar to level it all up again. There was still time for Mayo to win it at the death, but Robert Hennelly's free from tight out on the sideline on the Mackey Stand side dropped just short and extra time was calling.
Mayo pushed into an early two point lead in extra time through McLoughlin and O'Connor points, but Barry John Keane replied with two frees, one of them a very questionable decision. The second half saw Kerry push on and hit three without reply from Jonathan Lynne (twice ) and Paul Geaney kicking his fourth point of the day. Mayo were reduced to 14 at the death when Cillian O'Connor got a straight red, but the ball was already burst at that stage.
So for another year it ends. The punctuation mark has been put on Mayo's season. For James Horan, a massive credit for his efforts, for the players, no more could be asked or given by them. It's going to be a long tough winter, but come the cold, dark afternoons of January and February, they'll be back and we'll be back again.
Mayo:R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Boyle, D Vaughan (0-01 ); B Moran, S O’Shea; K McLoughlin (0-01 ), A O'Shea, J Doherty (0-03 ); C O'Connor (2-05, 1-00 pen, 0-03f ), A Moran (1-01 ), A Dillon.
Subs: T Parsons for B Moran (HT ), A Freeman (0-01f ) for A O’Shea (Blood, HT ), M Conroy (0-01 ) for O’Connor (Blood HT ), Conroy for Dillon (57 mins ), K Keane for Cafferkey (68 ), R Feeney for A O’Shea (70 ), Freeman for A Moran (70 ), B Harrison for Vaughan (79 ), C Barrett for Boyle (83 ).
Kerry:B Kelly; P Murphy, A O'Mahony, S Enright; K Young (0-01 ), P Crowley, F Fitzgerald; A Maher, D Moran; M Geaney, J Buckley, D Walsh; K Donaghy (1-00 ), P Geaney (0-04, 0-03f ), J O'Donoghue (2-06, 2-00 pen, 0-02f )
Subs: M O Se (0-01 ) for Enright (22mins ), BJ Keane (0-02f ) for P Geaney (42 ), P Kilkenny for Fitzgerald (Black ) (42 ), D O’Sullivan for Buckley (55 ), K O’Leary for M Geaney (61 ), J Lynne (0-02 ) for D Walsh (70 ), B Sheahan for O’Mahony (83 )
Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath ).