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homework to correct - Liam

LIAM McHALE knows, from traumatic experience, that replays rarely follow the same script as the original encounter. The star of the drawn All-Ireland in '96, the early fall-guy a fortnight later, and 18 years later he's still wondering when Mayo will end the eternal wait.

After last Sunday's epic second half in Croke Park, McHale was a jumble of conflicting emotions. Dismayed that Mayo had failed to close out a game in which they had fought so heroically ... yet more optimistic than he had been before throw-in.

He reckons the Mayo players now know their Kerry rivals are eminently beatable.

"For sure," he says, "you'd be saying something like 'these fellas aren't that good at all'. The way Mayo played the first half, they were very tentative, very defence-minded, there was no real aggression in their game when they had the ball. And in the second half, when they had no choice but to throw it into them, they made Kerry look very ordinary.


"It was strange for a while, we were ripping them asunder and we were down to 14 men; the space that Andy Moran was getting right in front of their goal for the scores that he got was crazy, when you consider they had the extra man. Kerry were all over the place at that stage."

But Kerry, being Kerry, came from five down in the last few minutes and almost pilfered it. For McHale, this was a worrying case of recent history repeated.

"Five up, seven minutes to go, in complete control. The same with the Cork game - seven up, complete control," the former All Star midfielder laments.

"Kieran Donaghy was warming up for maybe three or four minutes; we got plenty of warning that he was coming on and everybody knew when he went in that they were going to go route one and try and get that goal.

"We left Ger Cafferkey, who was struggling anyway, a little bit isolated on him. I thought we could have dealt with that better - if we did, we would have won the game. But at that stage it was frantic."

Now for the first rule of GAA replays: whoever learns more from the first game usually prevails. Reflecting on how that cagey first half unfolded, McHale draws his own conclusion that Tom Cunniffe wasn't "coached properly" in how to play the sweeper role. "Tom kept turning his head to see where James O'Donoghue was - and that's not his job," he maintains.


"His job is to anticipate where the ball is going and try and intercept those Kerry kick-passes that come from (Anthony) Maher and (Johnny) Buckley and Moran out the field. So he had to concentrate on the guy with the ball ... and if O'Donoghue does get the ball, then he goes to double-team him.

"I thought Keith Higgins did a good job on James O'Donoghue, but at the same time James scored 1-3 and he's such a special, special player. I thought he was awesome again on Sunday. He just doesn't turn the ball over," McHale points out.

Mayo's second-half transformation, he adds, came from "winning kickouts, turning the ball over high up on their side of the pitch, and creating scores off that. That's very difficult to do when you're playing a sweeper, because it's just too easy for Kerry - or whoever you're playing against - when they have an extra man out around the middle of the field.

"James O'Donoghue has already said that the sweeper thing doesn't bother him at all - for two reasons. The first reason is that most sweepers don't know what they're doing, and secondly the kick-passes from Kerry's players out the field are normally very good and they get the ball into him anyway.

"I would say that if Mayo went man for man and tried to use their size and their tackling ability and their mobility, they'd probably be better off."

Once down a man after Lee Keegan's red card, that's essentially what Mayo did. McHale reckons Kerry were partly culpable; that their "mindset was all wrong" coming out for the second half, thinking the game was over.

Mayo were the pulverising polar opposite but that, too, could now become an issue. By the end of the game, bodies were wilting. "Ger Cafferkey's calves are hurting him," says his fellow Ballina Stephenite, "and he's not playing with any confidence this year.


"It depends on how he responds this week, but I don't know if he's fit enough to mark Donaghy - and you'd imagine Donaghy, if he doesn't start, will be in early enough.

"You've got to remember it's a six-day turnaround and we played, heroically, for 37-38-39 minutes with 14 guys. Every one of them really worked his socks off. Our fatigue levels are bound to be high, simply because we worked so hard and played so aggressively - especially going forward."

As for the row over fixing tomorrow's replay for Limerick, McHale argues the need for Mayo to get on with it: "The place is going to be hopping, full of Mayo fans - we just have to go down now and see can we finish off the job."

And will they? "It's going to be tight again," he cautions. "I was very surprised how poor Kerry were and how poor Eamonn Fitzmaurice and his management team were, and the way they set the whole thing up in the second half. They didn't make any adjustments other than bring in subs that had a big impact.

"So whoever gets their homework right, whoever studies the tape right and gets the adjustments right, and whatever team is fresher, will win.

"I thought maybe Kerry would have won it last week, but I think Mayo might have the slight advantage now - simply because they'll be thinking that these boys aren't near as good as we thought they were."