Kerry don’t lose many championship games in Killarney. The Kingdom’s record in Fitzgerald Stadium is rock-solid, writes Peter McNamara.
However, Peter Keane’s outfit will be doing extremely well next Sunday to enhance that record if Mayo can engineer a healthy number of possessions for their full-forward line.
Against Armagh, James Horan’s side produced moments in which their attack looked really sharp and threatening.
Against Galway, it truly clicked into gear.
Between them, Cillian O’Connor, Darren Coen, and James Carr contributed 2-9 to Mayo’s total of 2-13 in the Gaelic Grounds last Saturday night.
O’Connor nailed five frees and a peach of a score in open play, man-of-the-match Coen is evolving into a potential All-Star nominee, and Carr, thrust into such a stirring environment despite not featuring much for the westerners recently, nearly ripped the net with the second of his two green flags.
And O’Connor and Coen have scope for further improvement in the coming weeks as both men could have finished with more than their respective returns of 0-6 and 0-3.
Given how porous Kerry’s defence was against Cork in the Munster final, it seems a team like Mayo could cause Keane’s charges a mountain of problems, especially as they are noted for their runners coming from deep through the central channels.
Horan might take his cue from Ronan McCarthy and encourage his players to drive at Kerry from as far out as the middle-third, in much the same way the Rebels did at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Operating in such a manner is one of Mayo’s greatest strengths.
They have the players capable of gaining ground through a direct running game, players like Donie Vaughan and Kevin McLoughlin. You could even throw in Jason Doherty for good measure.
Keith Higgins, too, would be another man Kerry will have to try to nullify as he needs no encouragement whatsoever to venture into the opposition’s defensive-third.
Horan’s side were utterly unconvincing in their defeat of Armagh. And Mayo being Mayo, they did all they could to make life more difficult for themselves than it needed to be against Galway.
Nevertheless, they kept the Tribesmen at arm’s length and will fancy themselves to grab one of the two All-Ireland semi-final berths from their Super 8s group.
It may be the first of three matches in the quarter-final series for both counties, but the winner, if there is to be a winner, will have one leg in the last four as you would back either of them to do enough to beat Meath.
Donegal, for the record, will obviously represent a completely different challenge to anything Kerry and Mayo have faced this summer, but it would appear this opening fixture in Fitzgerald Stadium could determine who meets Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final as Jim Gavin’s unit will surely win their respective Super 8s group.
All we can go on is what we have witnessed thus far and, form-wise, Donegal and Dublin look the most likely group winners.
Therefore, there is a hell of a lot riding on the Kerry-Mayo game.
The Kingdom are odds-on favourites to win the tie – they are no better than 8/13 with the odds-compilers to overcome the westerners.
Mayo are 2/1, but those prices might be doing Horan’s team a disservice.
True, they seemed like they were on the ropes when Armagh nearly took them out but they are building momentum now and could take down a side like Kerry simply because of the latter’s defensive deficiencies.
And of course, it was only last March 31 that Mayo beat Kerry in the league final by four points, 3-11 to 2-10, so it is not like Mayo will fear Kerry at all.
There are question marks over both teams and it could be a tight game, certainly tighter than the odds suggest.
If pressed, though, I would say Mayo might leave Killarney a happy squad next Sunday.
If Mayo can get Lee Keegan on the pitch, as a starter or, say, from midway through the second half, it will be another boost for them as he is exactly the type of individual that could hurt Kerry with his all-action approach.
Yet, the potentially most interesting duel of the contest could be that of David Moran and Aidan O’Shea in midfield.
If one of those players wins that particular battle, it could have a significant bearing on the outcome.
Were O’Shea to get the better of those exchanges, you could have runners coming off his shoulder to take pop-passes en route to Kerry’s goal.
Equally, Chris Barrett and Brendan Harrison will be up against it in trying to contain David Clifford and Paul Geaney should Moran dominate the skies in the middle-third.
The full-forward lines are arguably the strongest lines within both teams. With that in mind, a man-of-the-match display from either Moran or O’Shea will have probably meant victory for their respective county as both men are creators as well as grafters.
Moran and O’Shea could land teasing balls before their front-line attackers and an open game could be in the offing. It has all the ingredients to be a tight, high-scoring shoot-out.
You could just see O’Shea shading that clash as he has had more game-time under his belt in the last number of weeks.
Either way, it is a match that could shape the summer.
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