Will the inevitable happen on Saturday afternoon or can Mayo carry on their unbeaten run in this year’s championship?
Will they be bold and brave and tweak some positional changes or will they set out their stall the same and hope they can kick another 20 points and keep Kerry to less?
Some Kerry things don’t change. The Rose of Tralee, the Puck Fair and Kerry only losing the occasional replays are engrained in our minds.
Yet, I still feel that while Mayo will be disappointed they didn’t win last weekend, despite playing some great football, they will be very confident of finishing off the job on Saturday.
What do they need to do to make the third Sunday in September?
I spoke last week about Donal Vaughan playing at full-back, Lee Keegan in midfield, and Aidan O’Shea on the 40. I haven’t changed my mind.
If anything, I have strengthened my belief that these positional changes would greatly enhance Mayo’s chances of victory. You can have nothing but admiration for Stephen Rochford’s bravery and willingness to curb Kieran Donaghy’s aerial threat.
It worked. Donaghy caught no clean ball when Aidan was marshalling the square. We all saw what happened when he left the square. But as coaches, we have to be equally brave when things aren’t going to script in the heat of the battle. We must be willing to change and change quickly during the match. The Mayo management can react quicker the next day or they can set their team up better to win the bloody game.
To me, it looked like Mayo set up to contain Kerry last weekend. They were almost toying with them and jibing them to kick it in long so Aidan v Star could take centre stage. It’s time for Mayo to really put this Kerry team to the sword. They need to put Paddy Durcan back into the half-back line with Colm Boyle and Keith Higgins.
Higgins can rotate positions with Chris Barrett if and when needed. Tom Parsons and Lee Keegan in the middle of the field for me as Kerry will be likely to play Jack Barry the next day. Keegan has the mobility to stay with Jack Barry. It could turn into a potential shootout between the two, as both Jack and Lee have the ability to score 1-3 apiece.
I’m leaving Seamus O’Shea out of the starting 15, which is harsh on him, as he’s such an honest grafter. But there’s no room for sentiment now.
Another tweak I would propose; move Jason Doherty to the half-forward line instead of Diarmuid O’Connor. Doherty can compete for kick-outs and will give good ball inside. That would allow Mayo start Conor Loftus.
Why would I throw in a cub like Loftus? You would presume that Andy Moran will get closer attention after last Sunday’s heroics. If Kerry do manage to shackle Andy, Mayo must have a real scoring threat on the field and not in the Hogan Stand. Rotate Cillian O’Connor with Aidan O’Shea occasionally and Mayo are creating more scoring opportunities. Mayo must continue to probe the Kerry rearguard. They are vulnerable and no matter what changes Kerry make, there will be doubt in their minds.
Mayo’s kick-passing game was excellent last Sunday, you could see Crossmaglen’s John McEntee blueprint being implemented. Mayo can quickly adapt to their running game, if Kerry do assign a sweeper.
Will Kerry play a sweeper or stick to their current sweeping system? Tyrone usually drop a midfielder back, normally Colm Cavanagh. Dublin usually opt for a half-back, normally centre-back Cian O’Sullivan. Mayo usually rotate between two half-backs, Keith Higgins and Colm Boyle. Will Kerry persist with their current policy of none? Or could they drop a half-forward back when they’re not in possession?
The sun is promised for Croke Park on Saturday afternoon which will help some players to perform better as well as replenishing some much needed Vitamin D after last Sunday’s soft day. It amazes me when I hear people still say “wet conditions only suit the big lads, not the skilful players”. Let me tell you that it takes skill of the highest level to control a wet ball, keep your balance and execute a pass or score. Good players will play well in any conditions and not complain or make the rain as an excuse. We’re not playing in Boston or the Asian games, we’re playing in Ireland.
Speaking of the weather, I can’t get TV3 weather guru Martin King out of my head when I see Maurice Deegan refereeing. Everything is cool with Maurice on the field. A big melee, irritated players, players committing to huge tackles, small margins for error, whistle blown. Everyone looks to Maurice, holding their breath to see which way he points his hand. A big grin on the Laois man’s face. ‘No panic lads, take it easy, I’ll deal with it shortly, Ah stop messing with each other, I’ll have a chat to my umpires, don’t forget to smile, we’re on camera’. A unique way of refereeing for sure. I felt he gave Kerry a few soft ones in the first half. Mayo need to sharpen up on their tackling and take this on board, as Saturday’s referee David Gough doesn’t tolerate any lip and has x-ray vision when it comes to spotting off-the-ball fouls.
Éamonn Fitzmaurice didn’t hang around when his script was shredded. Curly fingers issued, new blood sent in to try and stem the Mayo tide and it almost worked. The biggest headache for Kerry is do they trust the same 15 players to win their duels in the replay or do they start the team that finished the match? Do Éamonn Fitzmaurice, Maurice, Poco, Mikey, and Hassett convince themselves that ‘we just needed that hard test, we will be sharper and hurt by the criticism’?
A lot of questions to be answered by Kerry. I’m not qualified enough to provide any answers for the Kingdom. I’ll let the Gooch fill inreaders with his insightful thoughts.