Kerry 1-18 Mayo 0-13: second half squander does for us

Yes, the injuries were a factor in our hugely disappointing exit from the Championship at Kerry’s hands in today’s All-Ireland quarter-final but they weren’t the deciding issue. What was instead was our squandering of chance after chance in the second half at a time when we were more than holding our own in the contest.

Kerry, by contrast, were far more economical with the opportunities that came their way. As we butchered several good openings – enduring a 20-minute spell without a score at all – they got the points they needed to put clear daylight between the teams and were comfortable eight-point victors at the finish.

It was the tamest of endings for us, highlighting in such a painful way how far we’ve regressed since the days when we went toe-to-toe with the best in the country. Kerry were little better than average today but that was more than good enough to complete an untroubled win over us.

For a time earlier in the afternoon, ourselves and the Kerry crowd seemed like gatecrashers at someone’s else’s party. A wild party it was too, as Galway and Armagh served up a truly bonkers contest, one that certainly deserved a second airing when it ended level after extra-time. Replays, however, have no place in the GAA’s ludicrously squashed calendar and so instead the tie had to be decided by the indignity of a penalty shootout.

In fairness, Galway had been the better team in the game and their penalties were better too. In that sense they deserved their win but it was a rough way for Armagh to go out, having poured so much into the contest.

The crowd remaining at a now wet Croke Park for our match was well below 70,000+ official attendance. Gone was the raucous atmosphere and the first half of our game was strangely muted, with Kerry looking tentative and unsure of themselves, as we opened far more brightly than many, myself included, would have expected.

We’d chosen to start Kevin McLoughlin instead of James Carr, a switch that, in truth, never worked. Kevin had a very unhappy first half, while James, when he came on for Jack Carney (itself an odd switch) at half-time, did have an impact and landed one of just two points from play that we managed to bag in the second half.

We opened the scoring when David Gough spotted some off-the-ball holding on Cillian O’Connor close to goal. Cillian popped over the resultant free.

A David Clifford mark levelled it up and when we messed up the restart – which we did a bit in that first half – Gavin White put them ahead. A fine strike from out on the right wing from Conor Loftus answered that one.

Oisín Mullin was going man-on-man with Clifford, which seemed to be inviting trouble but he won the first few exchanges. The Kerry player went down after one of these and looked in bother but was able to continue playing. To good effect, as events transpired.

Aidan O’Shea rarely scores at Croke Park these days but he lamped over a spectacular outside-of-the-boot effort from forty yards to put us back in front. We then survived a major scare at the other end as Geaney burst clean through but dragged his goal effort wide.

Kerry’s corner back Tom O’Sullivan, who would end the day with three points to his credit, raided forward to level it up. A Clifford free then edged them ahead. Rob Hennelly did superbly to pull down a Clifford effort that looked to be going over but O’Shea then pointed to give Kerry a two-point lead.

A nice point from play by Cillian helped steady us. Then, after HawkEye ruled out the first of two Kerry score attempts, Rob Hennelly trotted up to bang over a long-range free off the floor to square it up again.

A Geaney point for them was answered by a cracking Jack Carney point for us. Then Stephen Coen found himself well upfield, following a good drive forward by Aidan O’Shea, and the skipper’s effort put us back in front. Things were now going nicely for us.

In a flash, though, the contest turned against us. Clifford had been well shackled up to now but, tracked by Paddy Durcan, he won the ball way out on the left wing, did a quick give-and-go with Stephen O’Brien and left Paddy in his wake to shoot high to the net on Robbie’s near side.

Worse was to follow as Aidan O’Shea was handed a black card. It wasn’t clear at the time what this was for but I heard later it was apparently for some verbals, which, if so, was a bit odd but there you go.

We did well, though, in that ten-minute spell that spanned half-time. We held onto the ball for much of the time and, when Aidan came back on, the deficit was back down to just one.

We got the first score after the black card, a Cillian free. After Moran landed a neat point for them we had the final say of the half when Kevin Mc blasted over. Although it looked a goal chance, had he hit it low Ryan would probably have stopped it and had he gone left then the angle would probably have been too tight.

Our lads would have gone in happy enough at the break. Kerry hadn’t come at us with all guns blazing and they looked, well, a bit ordinary. We were, for sure, well in it at that stage.

For a time early in the second half, it looked like we were getting on top in this contest. Gough lets pretty much everything go in the tackle and we were tackling hard so won a number of turnovers, leading to a number of scoring chances.

It was then, though, that we lost sight of the posts. Chance after chance went a-begging and some of the opportunities we contrived to miss really had to be seen to be believed. It really was squandermania and ultimately it’s the reason we’re no longer in this year’s Championship.

We scored four points from fifteen attempts in the second half, during which we went through a full twenty minutes without scoring at all. All the while, the more efficient Kerry front line did what Kerry forwards do and took the chances that came their way.

This wasn’t stellar stuff at all from Kerry but it didn’t need to be. From when James Carr knocked over a fine score on 48 minutes, we then didn’t score again until the 68th minute while, in the meantime, Kerry notched eight trouble-free points into the Hill.

Jordan’s point was also our final one of the game but, fittingly, Kerry had an answer to that one too. This came via a close-in free that O’Shea popped over to close out what was, from our perspective, an embarrassingly easy eight-point win.

So, our inter-county season, blighted by a succession of bad injuries, is over. We can only hope that when 2023 rolls around our luck will finally start to turn on that front, though I assume our consideration of what befell us this year on that front will go further than praying for a change of fortunes next year.

This season’s end also feels like an end in other ways too. I doubt we’ll see again a few of those warriors who have served us so well down the years and I’ve no idea what the future holds for James and his management team either. Now’s not the time for any quick decisions on this front, however, as time to ponder options for the future is not something we’re short of right now.

What we are short of is, of course, a place in the All-Ireland semi-final. This is only the second time since 2011 that we’ve failed to make the final four and it’s the first quarter-final we’ve lost since 2009. Yes, today really does feel like an ending, in more ways than one.

Mayo: Rob Hennelly (0-1, free); Lee Keegan, Oisín Mullin, Enda Hession; Paddy Durcan, Stephen Coen (0-1), Eoghan McLaughlin; Aidan O’Shea (0-1), Matthew Ruane (0-1); Jordan Flynn (0-2), Diarmuid O’Connor, Conor Loftus (0-1); Kevin McLoughlin (0-1), Jack Carney (0-1), Cillian O’Connor (0-3, two frees). Subs: James Carr (0-1) for Carney, Fergal Boland for Loftus, Aiden Orme for McLoughlin, Padraig O’Hora for O’Shea, Jason Doherty for Cillian O’Connor, Paul Towey for Orme (blood).

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Kerry 1-18 Mayo 0-13: second half squander does for us