Rarely will you see Kerry so happy with a league win in the first week of February but then the nature of their of their three-point win over Mayo in Saturday’s Division 1 clash in Castlebar was different.
They finished with just 13 players after both Ronan Shanahan and Gavin Crowley were gone by the 54th minute but kept Mayo to just two points in the time remaining.
After Crowley was dismissed, Cillian O’Connor converted the free to leave three points between the teams.
But that was as close as Mayo came and, incredibly, they would only score once more, an Andy Moran free in the 73rd minute.
That Moran was taking the free tells its own story, both Cillian O’Connor and Jason Doherty had missed frees they would normally put over in their sleep.
Kerry, despite being reduced to 13 players, remained a threat on the front foot and Man of the Match Paul Geaney struck for a point to ease Kerry four in front.
Ultimately, though, it was their resilience at the back that won the game for Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s young charges.
They coped very well with the physical exchanges on the night, something which will please Fitzmaurice.
Mayo realistically needed a goal, given their poor efforts at point taking, but they only got one sight of it. That was when corner-back Eoin O’Donoghue broke through but his goal bound shot was cleared right off the goal line by the excellent Shane Enright.
Enright, Paul Murphy and Geaney excelled for Kerry while there were strong performances also from Gavin Crowley, Jack Barry and Barry John Keane.
Crowley got forward for Kerry’s goal four minutes after half-time and it proved to be a score that would keep Mayo at arm’s length for the rest of the game.
Jason Doherty had levelled matters for Mayo inside the first minute of the second half after Kerry led by 0-10 to 2-3 at the break.
Kerry will wonder how they were only one point up at half-time. They had more than twice the amount of shots than Mayo (21 to 9) and had four shots for goal to Mayo’s two.
But Mayo scored with both of their chances while Kerry had three shots saved by All Star goalkeeper David Clarke and a fourth blocked over the bar by Shane Nally.
The pick of Clarke’s saves was his 24th minute penalty save from Sean O’Shea after Paul Geaney was fouled in the process of shooting. Clarke saved that shot too.
At the other end both of Mayo’s chances fell to Diarmuid O’Connor. He fired the first low to the net after being placed by Aidan O’Shea, who won a hop ball on the 21 metre line.
The second was a penalty, finished coolly to the left corner after Neil Douglas was fouled just before half-time.
Jason Doherty followed that up with a long-range free and Mayo had cut a five point deficit to one.
Those present in MacHale Park only saw a fleeting glance of teenager star David Clifford, who went off injured after 17 minutes.
But his young colleagues, and some experienced hands, were not phased by the task that faced them in the last quarter as Kerry open with two league wins for the first time since 2009.
Mayo: D Clarke; E O’Donoghue, B Harrison, G Cafferkey; P Durcan, S Coen, S Nally; J Gibbons, B Moran (0-01); K McLoughlin, A O’Shea, D O’Connor (2-01, 1-00 pen); N Douglas, E Regan (0-01, f), J Doherty (0-03, fs).
Subs: C Crowe for Cafferkey (inj.), C O’Connor (0-02, 0-01f) for Regan (inj), C Boyle for Nally, A Moran (0-01, f) for Douglas, F Boland for B Moran, C Loftus for Doherty.
Kerry: S Murphy; R Shanahan, J Foley, S Enright; P Murphy (0-01), G Crowley (1-00), B O Beaglaoich; J Barry, B O’Sullivan (0-01); M Burns (0-02), S O’Shea (0-03, 0-01 ’45), S O’Brien; D Clifford (0-01), P Geaney (0-03, BJ Keane (0-03).
Subs: J Savage for Clifford (inj), B O’Sullivan (0-01) for O’Brien, A Barry for Keane, M Flaherty for O’Shea, E O’Connor for Burns, C Coffey for O Beaglaoich.
Referee: D O’Mahoney (Tipperary).