Mayo ground out an important win on Saturday night against a Kerry side who, up until then, had taken on all comers and won.
People will say ‘sure it’s only the league’ and to an extent that is true, the real questions will be asked come the ‘white heat’ of Championship.
However, we can’t underestimate the importance that this game held for James Horan and his Mayo side. After starting the league like a house on fire, they fell to Dublin in Croke Park on a night that they would want to have forgotten as soon as they headed back west.
Then came the visit of Galway, their nearest and dearest rivals and again they dropped points.
They were slipping out of the race for the league title and with a trip to Tralee on the horizon, three defeats in a row against their three main rivals would have been a huge blow.
However, they ground out a come-from-behind victory that is sure to be a massive morale shifter as the summer approaches.
The game on Saturday evening was played in tough conditions. It was difficult to stand out and that made for a poor enough game.
Aidan O’Shea picked up the Man of the Match award for a dominant midfield display and rightly so, it was one his best performances in a while. He dominated the kick out, pressed forward, set up scores and helped out in defence (his dispossession of Tomás Ó’Sé on 60 minutes was textbook defending and an example of why he is actually one of the games best tacklers).
However, there was one period of the game were O’Shea was so dominant around the middle third it gave Mayo the catalyst to go on and win this game.
Four minutes. Four points. And the big Breaffy man was central to all of it.
He is our focus on this week’s edition of ‘Spotlight‘.
It’s the 50th minute of the game. Kerry lead the game 0-7 to 0-5. Dessie Dolan is on commentary duty and his words are ‘the next score is critical’.
Bang. Point to Kerry. They go three up with twenty minutes to go and look good for the win.
From the resulting score, David Clarke lines up a kick out and is aiming for O’Shea and the big Breaffy fella’ makes enough of a nuisance of himself to win a free kick.
O’Shea takes the resulting free and aims a beautiful ball inside to Kevin McLaughlin. Mayo then use the hand pass well to set free Fionn McDonagh who duly kicks the score.
0-8 to 0-6
From the resulting Kerry kick out, the Mayo forwards press high forcing Brian Kelly to kick long and down the throat of the ‘Big Man’.
O’Shea reads the kick perfectly and breaks it down into his own path before beautifully executing the GAA’s version of the ‘Cruyff Turn’ before drawing the foul and leaving Jason Doherty with a free shot at goal.
0-8 to 0-7
Mayo are back to within one. Kelly takes a short kick out.
However, Mayo’s tails are up. They’ve pressed up high on the Kerry defence yet again and the Kingdom look rattled.
Tomás Ó’Sé is in possession and as he looks to offload, O’Shea reads it and attempts to intercept.
He claims the ball, taking out Ó’Sé’s intended target before then flattening the young Kerry man.
O’Shea drives into the heart of the Kerry defence before passing to Doherty who spots Fergal Boland in a better position to score and level the game up.
0-8 to 0-8
All the momentum is with Mayo. Kerry have retreated into their own half. Mayo try to work the ball through the defensive screen but are unable too. O’Shea at this point is hanging back and waiting on the pass. When he receives the ball and plays a one-two with Chris Barrett.
When O’Shea receives the return ball he looks up and plays an eye of the needle ball through to Fionn McDonagh who is fouled.
A free to Mayo in front of the posts.
0-8 to 0-9
Mayo are in front.
A huge win for Mayo on the night, a win next weekend against Monaghan should see them through to a league final where they will more than likely meet Kerry again.
If O’Shea can keep up these sort of dominant displays around the middle third, he will be difficult to stop this season.