Keegan’s return sharpens Kerry and Mayo focus as venue furore fades into the background.
Having coined the phrase “To Hell or to Connacht”, the old enemy Cromwell must be turning in his grave this week as his most infamous line was turned on its head by the champions of the province he referred to - and thanks to a modern day embodiment of all that Irishness he despised for good measure too.
Given the choice of hell or Limerick, it appeared the Mayo county board would have had trouble choosing this week, such was the furore over the venue for the All-Ireland semi-final replay between last year’s finalists and Kerry.
Now, they have a point. The game should be in Croke Park we’d all prefer it to be in Croke Park but it’s not and we’ll all survive and moreover the game will pass off just fine too. At the end of the day, the best team will, in all likelihood, reach the final as well.
Asked on radio, by a non-GAA aficionado, on Friday morning if the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick was a small pitch, RTÉ hurling analyst Michael Duignan replied that it wasn’t - that actually it was quite a big pitch, and a fine stadium, and with excellent facilities to boot. The interviewer must have been left wondering what all the fuss was about at all, and he too would have a point.
Hopefully, the respective camps have moved passed the issue and are fully focused on the game rather than the venue at this stage.
Certainly Lee Keegan’s re-introduction to the fray should sharpen the focus of both James Horan and his opposite number after the marauding half-back got off on a technicality following his sending off last week.
Referee David Coldrick recorded the petulant offence wrongly and as such the ban arising from the absolutely correct decision he made has been overturned. The Justice for Keegan campaign, run by Mayo county board, got its wish.
Despite his undoubted importance to the Mayo cause, much may depend on the performance of fellow defender Tom Cunniffe and where he’s asked to play, however.
In the drawn game, Cunniffe was deployed as a sweeper to help thwart the threat of Kerry’s outstanding marksman James O’Donoghue. It was an unmitigated disaster as the entire Mayo team was knocked out of kilter playing a game they know little of.
Donal Vaughan’s return to centre-back hampered their midfield presence while Aidan O’Shea had a game to forget as he did little to justify his stature as a totemic figure in this Mayo side.
Once again, O’Connor was left fend for himself up front for much of the game –and did so with aplomb – before Andy Moran was introduced from the bench to ease the burden. Moran made a huge difference to the Connacht champions when he came on, running the channels tirelessly and knocking over some crucial scores with the game in the balance.
Deploying Alan Freeman (who did relatively well considering his lack of opportunity of late) from the start and keeping Moran in reserve seemed a nice mix last week and as such Horan has stuck with the same plan again this time. Hopefully, he might abandon the other bright idea though and leave the sweeper at home to mind the fort as Mayo empties towards the Treaty City.
Kerry likewise have named an unchanged side for a game they’re lucky to be able to contest. Despite rescuing the game last week, Kieran Donaghy remains on the bench alongside Declan and Darren O’Sullivan.
His catch and immediate pass to the aforementioned O’Donoghue for Kerry’s goal was typical Star: a combination of imposing aerial ability and unselfish team play. Had he shot, Kerry would have been too. Had he even delayed a second, the Kingdom would still be licking their wounds.
Having completely dominated their opponents in the opening half, secured a lead and gained a man advantage Kerry imploded last week. Mayo received plenty stick for not closing the game out having performed the modern day, 14-man version of Lazarus but Kerry somehow got off scot free for capitulating.
Although the cavalry eventually arrived to save the day, Eamon Fitzmaurice must be worried by the way his side folded. Now, some will say the better, more experienced team just threw off the shackles, played to their strengths and surged through the gears and to a certain extent they did but Kerry had too firm a grip on the game to let it slip.
Such was the contest, they had it won, lost and very nearly won again in the space of a single half of football.
More of the same again and - whatever about the masses travelling by plane, train and automobile to those foreign lands of Limerick – the neutrals will be delighted.