After Tyrone’s wins in 2003, ’05 and ’08, O’Connor steered Kerry to Sam Maguire. He’s now just two wins away from repeating that dose.
The were echoes of the past too for Mayo. For more times than anyone can care to remember, they faced Croke Park disappointment. Previously they’ve gone down in heroic flames, leaving on their shields, and with the admiration of the country. But here they were guilty of grievous self harm.
Again their biggest weakness was in front of goal; James Horan looking weary from it all as he reported four points from 16 shots in the second half.
“We’d an awful lot of attacks, we just didn’t get the return from the possession that we had. I think that’s it and they certainly did (get returns from their attacks), so that was the difference.
“I think we’d a couple into the goalie’s hands at a key time. I think that knocked us a little bit and gave them strength. That was where they got ahead into a comfortable lead and they managed it from there.
“There can be various reasons (for missed chances). We were probably missing our three highest scorers today in Tommy (Conroy) Ryan (O’Donoghue). And Darren McHale is our highest returns scorer. So that definitely makes a start, but your point is fair.
“We’d a lot into the goalie’s hands against Kildare and a lot today. Some of that is technique, some of it is the speed you are taking the shot at, all that sort of stuff. So it’s an area the guys will look at, we’ll look at.”
The last time Horan stepped down as Mayo manager, he did so after a four-year term and a defeat to Kerry. He’s now served four years of his second stint as manager and will take time to consider his next move. If post-match body language is anything to go by, perhaps Lee Keegan and Kevin McLoughlin are of a similar mind.
“That is for everyone to decide, the way the two guys are playing they still have a huge amount to offer and they are brilliant ambassadors for the game in Mayo. It is completely their decision,” Horan said.
“As I said, everyone will take time to reflect, for sure. It has been a tough year. If you were designing a year it would be the absolute inverse of what we had; from no pitches to play leagues, into no training pitches to no trainings.
“We had to cancel trainings, the amount of injuries, it was one of those raggle-taggle kind of seasons, but to the credit of the players they kept going and kept battling. We were down a lot of games and it would be very easy just for you to call it a night but we didn’t, we kept going, so huge credit to the lads involved.”
O’Connor and Kerry move on. They were far from vintage here and they led by just a point against a depleted Mayo with 20 minutes to go. But from that precarious position they powered home, kicking seven on the spin.
“In a way I suppose it was a perfect storm,” said the Kerry boss. “We were four weeks without a game and Mayo played two games in the interim. Plus the slippery conditions made it difficult to get up the pace of it.
“Not taking away from that, I thought we were rusty in the first half. We gave away an awful lot of ball. I don’t have the stats to hand but we must have given away nine or 10 possessions in our forward line that allowed Mayo to counter-attack. We can’t afford to do that the next day because with the running power that Dublin have they’ll punish you at the other end.
“I think we’ll get benefit from the game itself. Whatever about the gut-check. We needed a game. I mean, it’s ridiculous, we were sitting for four weeks watching our opposition playing games. It’s almost like you’re penalised for winning the provincial championship.
“Thankfully that changes next year but it’s a crazy system. What do you do? You try to make training as intense as possible and hope for the best.”
Not for the first time, David Clifford and his fitness was the source of much concern for Kerry. The Fossa man had only recovered from a calf injury coming into this game when he jarred an ankle early in the first half. It was significant enough for O’Connor to consider withdrawing his star man.
“We did, absolutely (think about taking him off),” O’Connor said. “But he’s the kind of a player you’d nearly give the benefit of the doubt to most of the time.
“He’s not just an ordinary player and he showed it with the goal he scored, which was a serious goal because it came at a time when we were struggling to get scores and we were struggling to get a foothold on the game. That’s the class of the man. That’s what he can do.”
Clifford is set for a scan this week, while Jack Barry and Adrian Spillane are “in a race against time” to be fit for Dublin.
“Look, we’ll need everybody against the Dubs because they have huge running power, huge pace all over the field, we’ll need everybody,” O’Connor said.
“The bottom line here is these Kerry players have been yearning to get a cut at the Dubs from as far back as three years ago.
“They lost an All-Ireland out there that they would feel they could have won. We certainly won’t be lacking motivation but neither will Dublin. Dublin will want to show that they’re back as good as ever, the team that won the six-in-a-row.
“They had a blip last year and they look to have rediscovered the hunger and the drive that got them to that six-in-a-row.”
Dublin and Kerry tangle again. And history continues to repeat itself.