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Mayo equipped to rule the Kingdom

IT is possibly the least enjoyable game a player will play in. The pressure is at its greatest in the week before the game with teams just 70-odd minutes away from playing on the greatest stage of them all, All-Ireland final day.

The pressure can get to both players and managers - and those whose minds begin to think about the game after this one, usually end up underperforming on the day and ultimately losing the game.

It is a game that can pass you by if you are not totally focused on the job in hand but that required focus can sometimes be difficult to find. Turning up on the day hoping that it will happen is almost always too late so this week management teams earn their crust.

The first of the two football semi-finals is fixed for next Sunday and both James Horan and Eamonn Fitzmaurice are experienced and intelligent enough to have their players absolutely mentally ready for this game.

This is going to be a fascinating contest from two of the most consistent teams over the last few years. Both teams are used to picking up provincial titles and have reached the All-Ireland 
semi-finals on a regular basis.

There is nothing new for the players here but the pressure on both sets of players is probably at its greatest going into this game. Kerry have not won the championship for five seasons - which is a mini-famine for them - but they have been sniffing around in that time.

They certainly believe that they have left one or two All-Irelands behind them and will be as determined as ever to win next Sunday for another shot at the title.

At the beginning of the year, it looked like it would be another frustrating campaign for the Kerrymen and the loss of their greatest player before a ball was kicked suggested that it would be a season to continue the transition.

Surprised

Kerry, of course, are no ordinary county when it comes to Gaelic football and history has shown us that they always find a way to compete and win and nobody should be surprised that they are back in yet another semi-final.

James O'Donoghue (pictured, below, left) is a marvellous young talent and is playing the type of football which is unstoppable. He has quickly grown into the position of leader and has become a driving force this season.

He has plenty of support all over the field but the big question is whether there is enough talent without Colm Cooper to win this game. They will, of course, be very confident as will their supporters because it is Mayo standing in the way. But this is a completely different Mayo team to the one they humiliated in the last 10 years.

This Mayo team are progressing every season and have played in all the big games over the last four years,. And although they have yet to get over the line, they have not froze on the big day like Mayo teams of the past.

They two will feel that they have left an All-Ireland or two behind them in the last three years but that hasn't fazed them one bit, and this year they are quietly going about the business of getting back into another final.

The pressure on them to do this is huge and they probably would prefer to play any other team in the country other than Kerry, but the Connacht champions won't lack motivation and in many ways this could be the game to change things.

A win for Mayo over their nemesis would be massive at this stage of their development and would give the players a huge boost in confidence, but it would also create a few head issues before the next game.

Bananas

That might be a little unfair on the Mayo players but it must be very difficult to prepare for a game when the county is going bananas around you. It has been an issue in the past and will need to be managed if the result goes their way.

For me Mayo have the players and the game plan to win this game. They are very comfortable playing in Croke Park and the fact that most of the players have played and won semi-finals will surely stand to them.

The battle at midfield will be key and Mayo seem to have the more settled duo and have options there if things aren't working out on the day.

Aidan O'Shea, who is playing most of his football in the forward line, is playing better than he was at this stage last year.

The Mayo forward line is probably still missing one class forward but Cillian O'Connor is fully fit this year and that's like having a new player. He must perform if Mayo are to have any chance.

I believe that the Mayo defence is the best around despite the fact that they have leaked poor scores in the championship. The goals conceded against Galway and Cork were disappointing but they have had time to tighten things up and they will know very well that they must not allow Kerry to score goals.

Favourites

This is a difficult one to call. For me Mayo are slight favourites because they have been building longer and in terms of game plans and systems they are better organised.

That said, Kerry will come out to play football as they always do and they will know that Mayo players still have collapsed against them when it mattered most. This is a different Mayo team and their window of opportunity is still open for the moment and defeat in this game is unthinkable.

It's Mayo for me.


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