A frantic one-point win over Mayo has moved the Kingdom mighty close to securing a League final spot next month after edging to victory on a desperately wet night in Austin Stack Park.
Leading by Tony Brosnan's goal at half time, 1-6 to 0-6, Kerry certainly weren’t counting any chickens at that stage, and, unsurprisingly, Mayo came at Kerry like they always do.
In the end Lee Keegan boomed one long and late effort at the Kerry posts to try and rescue a draw but saw his shot trail narrowly wide, which just about summed up how little there was to separate the joint Division One leaders coming into this contest.
Mayo can take plenty of positives – as will Kerry – from another titanic battle in the Kingdom, but on a night of extremely difficult conditions, the Connacht men turned over a little too much ball, which left them chasing Kerry and the game for most of the 80 minutes played.
In a game in which goals would hold a huge currency Kerry raised the only green flag of the contest, Brosnan’s 21st minute goal, which thrust Kerry into a 1-4 to 0-3 lead, proving a defining score right to the dramatic end.
The Dr Crokes man – a late replacement for Paul Geaney – started and finished a move involving David Clifford and Adrian Spillane to drive the ball past Rob Hennelly in the Mayo goal.
Kerry grab the first goal of the night through Tony Brosnan and it's a beautiful team move. Live now on RTÉ2. pic.twitter.com/258LWyqH3l— RTÉ GAA (@RTEgaa) March 12, 2022
A minute later Mayo conjured a similar movement but Aiden Orme lacked Brosnan’s composure and dragged his shot wide before David Clifford’s point put Kerry five points ahead, the widest margin between the sides in the first half.
Central to Kerry’s slight superiority in the opening period was a remarkable work-rate that saw them turn over Mayo repeatedly, with Dara Moynihan and Paudie Clifford typifying a lot of that work by Kerry.
Mayo – who scored first through a fine left-footed point from Matthew Ruane – weren’t without their opportunities either, with the best goal chance coming from Diarmuid O’Connor right at the end of the half.
Played in by Ruane, the Ballintubber man found himself one on one with Shane Murphy who got a vital touch on O’Connor’s goal-bound shot to put it out for a '45’ which Rob Hennelly converted to make it 1-6 to 0-6 at the interval.
The second half proved every bit as competitive, and as the rain eased, the quality of the football went up.
David Clifford shows superb strength to hold off Mayo's Oisín Mullin to point for Kerry. Live now on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ2 Player. pic.twitter.com/elG2Hdhlok— RTÉ GAA (@RTEgaa) March 12, 2022
David Clifford, who scored three points in either half, kept the Mayo defence honest, but at the other end Ryan O’Donoghue reciprocated with six converted frees and a pointed mark - five in the second half - as Mayo gamely reeled in the deficit.
It was Ruane’s second point, in the 63rd minute, that eventually drew Mayo level.
Matthew Ruane's point has set up a thrilling finish in Tralee. pic.twitter.com/FsMvRAw7hj— RTÉ GAA (@RTEgaa) March 12, 2022
Clifford converted a free in the 65th minute to make it 1-11 to 0-13, but when O’Donoghue levelled it up eight minutes later it looked like the teams were destined to share the spoils.
A careless foul by Aidan O’Shea on Stephen O’Brien handed Clifford a tap over free in the 76th minute and the best Mayo could muster was that late lash by Keegan which tailed wide and signalled a slightly premature pitch incursion by some Kerry supporters, with referee Brendan Cawley happy to take as his final whistle.
Kerry: Shane Murphy, Dylan Casey, Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan, Graham O’Sullivan, Tadhg Morley, Brian Ó Beaglaíoch, Diarmuid O’Connor, Jack Barry 0-01, Dara Moynihan 0-01, Jack Savage 0-02 (0-02f), Adrian Spillane, Paudie Clifford, David Clifford 0-06 (0-02f), Tony Brosnan 1-02.
Subs: Stephen O’Brien for A Spillane (45), Killian Spillane for J Savage (48), Gavin Crowley for D Casey (55), Greg Horan for D O’Connor (temp 65-68), Micheál Burns for P Clifford (65), Pa Warren for G O’Sullivan (73)
Mayo: Rob Hennelly 0-01 (0-01 ‘45’), Padraig O’Hora, Lee Keegan, Michael Plunkett, Paddy Durcan, Stephen Coen, Oisin Mullin; Jordan Flynn, Matthew Ruane 0-02, Diarmuid O’Connor, Aidan O’Shea, Jack Carney, Fergal Boland 0-03, Aidan Orme 0-01, Ryan O’Donoghue 0-07 (0-06f, 0-01m).
Subs: Enda Hession for S Coen (ht), Kevin McLoughlin for J Carney (42), Frank Irwin for A Orme (57), Conor Loftus for F Boland (65), Fionn McDonagh for D O’Connor (71).
Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare)