DESIRE, dedication and determination. Those are the qualities that are the making of a team and when James Horan was appointed Mayo manager just under a year ago, his commitment was to instil those qualities in his players and ensure anyone playing for him would wear the jersey with pride and give it everything.
Mayo bring those qualities with them to Croke Park but whether it will be enough to overcome odds-on favourites Kerry is very much a matter for debate.
If the Mayo that knocked out All-Ireland champions Cork turn up then there is every chance James Horan’s men can keep the dream alive and reach an All-Ireland final, an amazing feat surely for a fledgling team under a manager who is still operating on a provisional licence in terms of inter-county managerial experience.
There is no reason why that performance cannot be replicated again but a lot of things have to factor in, including the conditions, a bit of luck and how players react the pressure that is inevitably going to come with such a big occasion.
If the team that stuttered against London appears then Mayo can expect not only to lose, but to take a hiding.
My own gut feeling is that Mayo have turned the corner and are growing together as a formidable force. They are not without a chance against a Kerry team which hasn’t exactly set the championship stage alight just yet, but the big question is: have Mayo another big performance inside? It is difficult to put back-to-back displays together, but only the team can answer that.
They meet a Kerry team still smarting over that defeat to Down at the quarterfinal stage last year. Bad enough losing to Down, but when their opponents didn’t go on and beat Cork in the final…well, that needs fixing.
Hopefully, Jack O’Connor’s side haven’t put Sunday aside as the day when they will reveal the arsenal of weapons contained in their strongest department – their attack – which is likely to be fed with the Kerry trademark of the high ball into the danger zone.
Mayo’s defence may well hold the key to this game and it is an area Horan has been working hard on. That work has paid off handsomely, notably against Cork who were held to a single point in the second half of that memorable quarterfinal, while both Galway and Roscommon found it hard to break down that Mayo wall as well.
By the same token, the outcome will also depend on how much Mayo can put on the board and the statistics coming into this game show Kerry with a far superior scoring average.
Those same statistics have, of course, to be viewed against the backdrop of what was put in front of them and certainly a lot of Kerry’s 1-20 scored against Limerick in the quarterfinal were scored for fun.
Which brings us to the engine room of midfield, where Kerry tend to establish a solid platform for most of their victories.
Winning clean ball is unlikely to be easy and once more the breaking ball is going to be so critical and Mayo do have half-backs and half-forwards who have done well in this department, again Cork being the big example where Mayo hoovered up a huge amount of loose ball by likes of Kevin McLoughlin, Trevor Mortimer and Richie Feeney.
Seamus O’Shea has been the revelation of this year’s championship and I expect another big shift from him and his brother Aiden on Sunday as they match up against Kerry’s Anthony Maher and Bryan Sheehan. I suspect both teams will end up with combinations that did not start in midfield.
Ronan McGarrity, back to his best after playing a full 30 minutes for Ballina last week, could yet be a big card to pull from the Mayo bench, which has played a key role in bringing Mayo to this stage in the championship.
But how that Kerry full-forward line of Colm ‘Gooch’ Copper, Darren O’Sullivan and Kieran Donaghy is handled is going to be key in what is likely to a fascinating tactical contest between Horan and Jack O’Connor.
That Kerry half-forward line may well surprise us all given the depth of experience in Paul Galvin, Declan O’Sullivan and Donnacha Walsh, O’Sullivan’s ability to set up scores likely to provide a very stiff test for Mayo’s Donal Vaughan but not one the Ballinrobe man is likely to shirk.
Ger Cafferkey or Alan Feeney will carry a big burden but faith in that full-back line has very much been resorted after their display against Cork
Mayo’s scoring average in the championship is around 1-12 or 1-13 while Kerry’s is up there around the 1-16 or 1-17 mark.
It has the makings of a fascinating contest. Mayo go in at 4/1 with Kerry 2-7 on, and while Mayo wouldn’t have it any other way, at the end of the day you have to look at the formbook. The bookies got it all wrong against Cork. I can’t see them paying out again.
I think that is how it may well pan out once more, with Kerry just holding the edge in the scoring department.Verdict: Kerry with four points to spare (circa 1-16 to 0-15).