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Perfect setting for TG4's league launch, shame about the absent All Stars

WE suspect that the TG4 schedule-makers didn't have to ponder too long when deciding which match to kick-start their latest 'live' coverage of the Allianz Leagues.

Last August, Kerry/Mayo had it all ... and then some more. A pulsating drawn clash; an even more ridiculously chaotic replay classic, taking place in, of all places, the Limerick Gaelic Grounds. We had a red card rescinded and cards of various hues controversially not given at all. We had the most epic individual duel in recent memory - Keith Higgins on James O'Donoghue in the replay.

We had Mayo teammates accidentally banging heads with hugely disruptive consequences. The two games served up more comebacks than you'd see in a decade at Glastonbury. More precisely, we witnessed a Star reborn in the guise if Kieran Donaghy.

All things considered, then, Fitzgerald Stadium was the only place to be for the TG4 cameras.

Only one problem ... a majority of the gladiators who enraptured us over the course of 160-plus crazy minutes last August won't be in the Killarney coliseum tomorrow.


This is hardly a surprise given the various injuries afflicting both camps, and more especially given Kerry's belated return to collective training after their team holiday.

By the time our All-Ireland heroes returned from South Africa, a makeshift Kerry had already crashed out of the McGrath Cup. We can't be sure what physical nick they'll be in come tomorrow's 2pm throw-in, but it's a reasonable guess to assume that they might be playing catch-up on some fellow contenders.

This hasn't been an undue concern for Éamonn Fitzmaurice in previous years - consider Kerry's calamitous starts to the last two leagues. Each time they somehow conspired to avoid relegation; this year, with Sam safely under Killarney lock and key, there is far less pressure to hit the ground running.

Maybe just as well, too, when you consider Kerry's glut of absentees: Brian Kelly, Marc Ó Sé, Peter Crowley, Aidan O'Mahony, Killian Young, Donnchadh Walsh and Footballer of the Year James O'Donoghue are all injured, while new captain Donaghy is club-tied.

Just six All-Ireland starters are named (Fionn Fitzgerald, Paul Murphy, David Moran, Johnny Buckley, Stephen O'Brien and Paul Geaney) while four players who came on that day will start.

Mayo's new management double-act, Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly, have their own selection headaches and their team is notable for the absence of Colm Boyle, Aidan O'Shea, veteran attackers Andy Moran and Alan Dillon plus, of course, the suspended Cillian O'Connor.

There is plenty of experimentation, with Stephen Coen at corner-back, Patrick Durcan set for his league debut at wing-back, while Evan Regan and Mark Ronaldson audition for the role Mayo crave more than anything: a corner-forward poacher to complement O'Connor.