Sunday 26 January 2020

Joe Brolly: Forget Donaghy, there’s no easy solution to Mayo’s biggest problem


Mayo duo Diarmuid O’Connor (left) and Andy Moran collide with
Kerry’s David Moran. Photo: Sportsfile
Mayo duo Diarmuid O’Connor (left) and Andy Moran collide with Kerry’s David Moran. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Brolly

Joe Brolly

With two minutes to go and Kerry a point up, it looked as if another movement was to be added to Mayo's symphony of sorrowful songs.

However, Mayo have always been magnificent at getting the equaliser. It's the winner that causes the problem.

Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice. Photo: Sportsfile
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice. Photo: Sportsfile

Aidan O'Shea went to full-back from the throw-in to stamp out the aerial threat from Kieran Donaghy. The first two high balls kicked in were greeted with almighty roars from the stand. O'Shea punched both away, knocking the Kerry man aside in the process.

After the first 10 minutes, Donaghy changed tack and proceeded to go looking for the ball a little further out from goal.

After the final whistle, everyone was asking the same question: How did Mayo not win that?

The answer is Kieran Donaghy. He was the reason Kerry did not lose.

Taking full advantage of Aidan O'Shea's lack of experience in this most difficult of positions, he became the quarterback - probing, assisting and scoring.

To become a full-back takes a lifetime of study and practice. Thirteen days was never going to be enough for O'Shea.

He didn't know when to go tight on Star, or when to drop off. He didn't know when to attack the ball or when to retreat.

In the end, Star had his easiest day in Croke Park in a decade. At his leisure, he set up 2-4 and scored a point. In fact, he should have scored two.

He also put Jack Barry in for a goal chance, but he made a total hash of it. This failure to mark Donaghy was the critical factor in the game.

Mayo played beautifully, taking advantage of Kerry's misconceived defensive system.

How Kerry set up was a damning indictment of the tactical nous of Eamonn Fitzmaurice (right). Kerry flooded the middle third, man-marking tightly. However, as soon as Mayo got over that area, they were left '2 v 2' in the danger zone, in a huge amount of space.

Mayo's two goals came directly from this. For the first, Andy Moran had all the time he wanted to pick his spot and steer it home, with not a single covering defender in the vicinity.

The second was worse again, with Mayo left '2 v 1' with only one Kerry defender inside the 30-metre line.

Shortly after the second goal, Mayo were through again, and had so much time they were able to take four shots on goal, before the fourth was deflected up and over the bar. It was enough to make Mickey Harte take to his bed for a week.

There were two reasons why Mayo surrendered their winning leads (once in the first-half, twice in the second).

In the first-half they conceded five needless frees, including the three in succession that brought Kerry from three down and in trouble to level at half-time.

The second reason is that Donaghy was effectively unmarked, free to do as he pleased.

I was sitting watching the game with Colm Cooper, who remarked at one point that people still do not appreciate how brilliant Donaghy is.

Just as he said that, his old partner kicked a sublime pass off the outside of his right foot over the head of the Mayo defender and right into the path of Paul Murphy.

"You see Joe?"

"I do Colm."

Star's contribution was enormous given how poor his forward colleagues were.

James O'Donoghue continued his run of bad form and after spending the day soloing up cul de sacs, kicking the ball up into the air and generally floundering, he was taken off in the 60th minute.

Paul Murphy deserves a special mention. He is a Kerry forcefield. There is something primal about the way he conducts himself on the field.

Like Lee Keegan, he is instinctive, furious and fearless. It is no coincidence that neither played underage for their counties, and came to county football the hard way.

There is an obvious solution to Mayo's selection problem: Drop Seamus O'Shea, who is far too ponderous (and gave away the ball for the first goal), restore Aidan to midfield, thereby allowing Durcan to go to corner-back and Harrison to Donaghy.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution for their biggest problem: How to get the job done in games they ought to win.


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