By Shane Rice
LAST Saturday, Mayo stunned Kerry with an impressive win on a scoreline of 0-17 to 1-19, marking Kerry’s first loss in Killarney in 28 years.
Mayo, known for thriving as underdogs, strategically positioned themselves exactly where they wanted to be. With six weeks of intense preparation, Mayo grew hungrier with each passing week, setting the stage for a memorable showdown.
Under the radiant sun in Killarney, a massive crowd of 23,128 eagerly gathered to witness this clash of titans. From the outset, Mayo showcased their determination, missing two golden goal-scoring opportunities in quick succession. However, Shane Ryan, the agile Kerry goalkeeper, proved instrumental in keeping his team within touching distance.
One of the standout aspects, as observed from a coaching perspective, was Kerry’s aggressive kick-out press deployed against Mayo. They pushed all their players, including the full-back and half-back line, to exert immense pressure on Mayo’s goalkeeper, Colm Reape.
Kerry seemed well prepared, as David Clifford flawlessly converted a free kick before signalling his teammates to press the kick-out.
Under such circumstances, the Mayo goalkeeper needed exceptional skills to execute long-range kicks effectively. Mayo not only possessed the necessary kicking ability but also demonstrated impeccable communication and awareness.
They adeptly overloaded one side of the field, leaving Kerry at a disadvantage under high balls, leading to Mayo having a four against three under breaking balls, resulting in 0-3 points from long kick-outs towards Diarmuid O’Connor on Reape’s left-hand side.
Despite Mayo’s dominance, their kick passing and handling were at times sloppy, which should have allowed them to put Kerry out of sight by half-time. Kerry must address this vulnerability if they aspire to compete for another All-Ireland.
Conceding kick-outs and meeting the opposition at the 45-metre line could be a potential solution when facing teams with strong midfield battles. The absence of David Moran in midfield seemed to be a focal point for Mayo’s strategy.
The brilliance of David Clifford in the second half brought Kerry tantalizingly close, but Mayo extinguished any hopes of a comeback with Eoghan McLaughlin’s crucial goal. This defeat will serve as a valuable learning experience for Kerry, prompting them to reconsider their aggressive press strategy.
Mayo’s running power emerged as a significant strength against formidable opponents like Kerry and Dublin. However, they might encounter difficulties against disciplined defensive teams that prioritize conceding kick-outs and employ pack filtering, as exemplified by Derry and Armagh.
The stage is now set for an enthralling championship. With Mayo’s stunning victory over Kerry signalling an exhilarating start, fans can expect an intense and unpredictable competition ahead.