NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE DIVISION 1 FINAL
League champions for the third year in a row, this one will feel a good bit more authentic for Kerry than the previous two. At least this one was won by means of a final, and there was a cup to lift at the end of it, and there was people there to witness it.
Two years ago David Clifford accepted the Division One trophy in front of no one in Tralee after a regulation league game win over Donegal; last year the Kingdom shared the title with Dublin when no one went home with the silverware. This afternoon in Croke Park, 31,506 people – or whatever percentage of that who stuck around after the Division 2 final – saw Kerry avenge the 2019 League final loss to Mayo by making it two wins over them in three weeks to claim a 23rd title – and make as strong a statement as possible ahead of the Championship.
Goals from Gavin White, David Clifford and a late collector’s item from Jason Foley underscored an excellent Kerry performance that left no argument as to what team has been the best across the entire campaign. Having topped the division after the regulation seven games – beating Mayo along the way – it seems right and proper that Kerry carry the title home.
Kerry’s penchant for goals continued with another three, but one imagines Jack O’Connor, Paddy Tally and the management team will be just as pleased with another clean sheet at the back, and to the end Shane Ryan wasn’t really called on for much fire fighting in that regard.
Credit for that must go to a Kerry defence that continues to get better and tighter and more cohesive. White and Foley embellished their performances with those goals, but Tadhg Morley and Brian O Beaglaíoch played a critical part in the a half back line that is fast becoming the most important line in this team.
It won’t matter much to Kerry, but for context one has to wonder just how much Mayo were invested in this final. They certainly were up to a point, but as soon as Kerry started to put daylight between the teams on the scoreboard Mayo didn’t want to know about a battle.
Perhaps with an eye on a Connacht Championship quarter-final with Galway in three weeks, James Horan’s team weren’t interested in an arm wrestle here. Indeed, it says something that the biggest cheer from the Mayo support came in the 56th minute with the first appearance of the year from Cillan O’Connor.
It took just 23 seconds for Michael Plunkett to raise the game’s first flag, and thereafter the first half saw another 17 scores in a lively, energetic half of football that sat somewhere just above normal League intensity but well below the fire of a Championship game.
Paul Geaney and then Stephen O’Brien kicked Kerry’s first scores inside the first four minutes, but the half was as notable for the scores missed as those converted.
Two of the half’s best goal chances fell to Paudie Clifford who twice found himself in a one on one situation with Rory Byrne. Both times the Mayo goalkeeper got a crucial touch to deny the Fossa forward – the first one in the fifth minute requiring Enda Hession to tidy up and clear the ball near the goal line.
By the 15th minute Kerry had opened up a 0-5 to 0-2 lead, but that was almost wiped out two minutes later but Conor Loftus just failed to control the ball in the small square after Jack Carney’s shot came down off the post.
James Carr and Paul Geaney traded points in the 18th minute, and in the next two minutes opposing midfielders Jordan Flynn and Jack Barry exchanged points.
There was also a couple of calls for Hawkeye to adjudicate of a couple of Kerry attempts at points, with the same Cusack Stand end umpire needing a second opinion. Technology determined that Paul Geaney and David Clifford were fractions off the mark.
With plenty to keep the Kerry and Mayo contingent in the 31,506 attendance engaged, White’s goal arrived in the 24th when he ran at the Mayo defence, slipped a ball to Paul Geaney and followed up with a palmed goal after Byrne had half saved Geaney’s poked shot.
By the 29th minute Kerry were beginning to pull away, leading 1-8 to 0-4, with their confidence rising. Mayo hit back with fine scores from Ryan O’Donoghue, James Carr and Conor Loftus, but the half finished with Shane Ryan converted a free kick from the Cusack Stand sideline, and it all added up to a 1-10 to 0-7 Kerry lead at half time.
Plunkett’s second point, in the opening minute of the new half, was as good as it got for Mayo in terms of closing the gap: they never got closer than five points after that.
By the 52ndd minute Mayo were still just about hanging in there – it was 1-14 to 0-10 at that stage – and a black card for Kerry midfielder Diarmuid O’Connor might have shifted the dial a little in Mayo’s favour but it did nothing of the sort.
Kerry kicked the next goal and five points without reply; David Clifford’s goal coming just after O’Connor had re-entered the action, to make it 2-19 to 0-11.
And when Jason Foley found himself late man forward to shovel Tony Brosnan’s deflected shot into the Mayo goal, Jack O’Connor could afford himself a wry chuckle with his selectors on the sideline. When your full back finishes the day with more scored than he has conceded to his direct opponent, you probably know your team’s name was written on the Cup that morning.
KERRY: Shane Ryan 0-1 (f); Graham O’Sullivan, Jason Foley 1-0, Tom O’Sullivan; Gavin White 1-0, Tadhg Morley, Brian Ó Beaglaíoch; Diarmuid O’Connor, Jack Barry 0-1; Dara Moynihan 0-1, Paudie Clifford 0-2 (1 ‘45’), Adrian Spillane 0-2; Stephen O’Brien 0-1, David Clifford 1-6 (0-1f), Paul Geaney 0-5.
Subs: Gavin Crowley for G White (temp, 28-32), Tony Brosnan for S O’Brien (48), Gavin Crowley for G White (53), Micheál Burns for A Spillane (63), Joe O’Connor for J Barry (67), Jack Savage for D Moynihan (67).
MAYO: Rory Byrne; Lee Keegan, Stephen Coen, Padraig O’Hora; Michael Plunkett 0-2, Rory Brickenden, Enda Hession; Jordan Flynn 0-1, Matthew Ruane 0-1; Conor Loftus 0-1, Aidan O’Shea, Jack Carney; James Carr 0-2, Jason Doherty, Ryan O’Donoghue 0-5 (3f).
Subs: Kevin McLoughlin for J Carney (ht), Conor O’Shea for J Flynn (inj, 46), Aiden Orme for J Doherty (50), Cillian O’Connor 0-1 (f) for J Carr (56).
Referee: Noel Mooney (Cavan)