Let the kingdom come then send them packing
NEXT Sunday Mayo will go toe to toe with Kerry in an All-Ireland SFC semi-final that promises to be a formidable test of our ambitions, writes Connaught Telegraph columnist Martin Carney. Often regarded as our nemesis, I nonetheless believe there has seldom been a more opportune time to adjust the record books by recording another win over the Kingdom in championship football.
Since the penultimate round meeting in 2011 Kerry have lost the services of a redoubtable quartet in Tom O’Sullivan, Colm Cooper, Eoin Brosnan and Tomas Ó Sé. Kieran Donaghy is struggling to make the starting 15, although I feel certain that he will make an appearance at some stage. Newcomers like Paul Murphy, Stephen O’Brien, Michael and Paul Geaney are very talented but, for now, they lack the know-how and wisdom of the aforementioned.
That Kerry will thrive in the medium term under their impressive manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice is a given but, at the moment, Mayo should edge matters in terms of experience and hunger.
In last week’s column I referred to lapses in the defence and the full-back line as an area that Mayo can expect Kerry to target. As he did in the Munster final, Declan O’Sullivan, I assume, will adopt a deep-lying role in order to drag players out of position. Kerry will try to exploit the space created by getting quality ball to Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue. Both have been exceptional this summer, with the latter’s eight points haul from play against Cork one of the season’s highlights.
Whichever pair of Chris Barrett, Ger Cafferkey, Tom Cunniffe, Keith Higgins or Colm Boyle are assigned as markers, Mayo need to adopt a touch-tight marking policy in order to negate their influence. James Horan may be tempted to deploy a sweeper by pulling a half-forward back as cover but, no matter what system is used, it goes without saying that curtailing the scoring threat of this inside duo is a must.
Mayo are very well served around the middle sector, with a variety of options available due to the versatility of Kevin McLoughlin, Jason Doherty and Donal Vaughan. An encouraging straw in the wind in the defeat of Cork was the introduction of Jason Gibbons. What a bonus it would be if he declared himself injury-free and was available if required.
All supporters will pray for another O’Shea demolition job in the centre but they will be tested by sundry combinations of Anthony Maher, David Moran, Brian Sheehan and Johnny Buckley, whose current form has been impressive.
The other positive from the Cork encounter was the welcome return to form of Alan Dillon. Were he, Andy Moran and Cillian O’Connor to get a reasonable supply of ball, they are more than capable of notching winning scores.
Maintaining a consistency that at times was absent both against Galway and in the quarterfinal is a must. Obviously, huge levels of discipline and concentration will be required. Brian Sheehan is one of several Kerry placekickers who will punish indiscretions.
We are in an era of a 21-man game. Mayo players need to take responsibility in picking up Kerry subs whenever they are introduced. The apparent degree of confusion that accompanied the introduction of Donnacha O’Connor in the Cork game will hurt if repeated.
If Mayo avoid conceding goals and, provided the bench leaves its mark in adding to the push for victory, then the Kingdom can be sent packing.
A cliffhanger, but Mayo by two!