Thursday 14 December 2017

Powerful attacking platform should allow Kerry to gloss over weak links

All-Ireland SFC Semi-Final

Kerry v Mayo

Croke Park, 3.30

From the charred remains of the team burned by Longford and Sligo in last year's championship, the terrifying ordeal in London a few short months ago, and the hard ploughing through Connacht, has emerged a challenger that Kerry didn't expect to see and probably doesn't know what to make of.

But, then, Kerry don't know what to make of themselves either. The win over Cork in Killarney was split down the middle -- the sublime first half substituted for a complete character-change after the interval.

They still managed to win but it was a close-run thing. Their route here has been mainly against teams they would expect to defeat -- Tipperary and Limerick, twice -- so it has not been a summer of tremendous self-learning. In essence they have been shooting in the dark and trying to pick up clues on the training pitch.

They make just one change, with Kieran O'Leary replacing the injured Paul Galvin, whose career continues to be stalled by impediments of one sort or another since his redemptive 2009 and the Grand Slam of personal accolades and silverware.

Without Galvin's rawboned aggression, Kerry are a lesser force in the midfield area and Mayo now have a steelier look there and a better sense of how to crowd and cover territory.

Bryan Sheehan's midfield credentials remain a focus of interest and ongoing debate as do those of his partner Anthony Maher.

You don't want to carry a work-in-progress midfield partnership into an All-Ireland final and today they face the O'Shea brothers who fared impressively against Cork's highly regarded pair, particularly Seamus. The one rider was their pedestrian movement in possession, taking far too long to shift the ball on. In one instance this led to a turnover and a Cork goal.

Against Kerry, with the likes of Colm Cooper (pictured) waiting to pounce, these kinds of turnovers, often leading to overlaps, will exact a high level of retribution.

Mayo are well aware of these pitfalls and the flaws they showed against Cork who were given plenty chances to get back into the game by an opposition that loitered before pressing home their outfield advantage.

At one stage Keith Higgins soloed up the field and the growing anxiety for a score showed as he seemed intent on walking the ball as close to the goal as possible, knowing another miss could deflate them.

Since Micheál Quirke departed, citing lack of game-time, Kerry's midfield options have been reduced even further. In training, Eoin Brosnan was being tried there alongside Seamus Scanlon, who is now offering back-up but not playing as well as he was a few years ago. Brosnan has kept his place at centre-back but Kerry retain options if they need a change.

To cause another upset, Mayo's heroic defending against Cork will need to be repeated, and their midfield, again, needs a huge day.

Even if they manage that, they must increase their scoring punch -- from their younger players, like Alan Freeman and Enda Varley, primarily. Kerry's defence is not watertight but whether Mayo can ask the big questions is still unclear. The difference in the respective forward lines makes claims for a Kerry verdict impossible to ignore.

Kerry: B Kealy; K Young, M ó Sé, T O'Sullivan; T ó Sé, E Brosnan, A O'Mahony; A Maher, B Sheehan; Darran O'Sullivan, Declan O'Sullivan, D Walsh; C Cooper, K Donaghy, K O'Leary.

Mayo: R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; R Feeney, D Vaughan, T Mortimer; A O'Shea, S O'Shea; K McLoughlin, A Dillon, A Moran; E Varley, A Freeman, C O'Connor.

Verdict: Kerry

Dermot Crowe

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