Kerry class to prevail
Kerry v Mayo, Croke Park, 3.30
D Coldrick (Meath), * Live RTE 2
THIS wasn't supposed to be Mayo v Kerry. No, this was booked in for the latest instalment of Kerry v Cork, with last year's All-Ireland champions taking Connacht's ticket to the semi-finals.
But as if to prove once again that, in the right mood, they are capable of beating anybody, Mayo turned in their best championship performance since wearing Dublin into submission in 2006 to leave Cork a seriously beaten docket.
Mayo's recovery from early setbacks, followed by a compelling second-half performance which smothered Cork, was among the most impressive of the entire season. Now, the question is -- can they take that form into the semi-final? And even that may not be enough.
Kerry are as powerful as when they ripped Mayo apart in '04 and '06 and they retain enough of the core values which usually assert themselves so positively at this time of year.
It's crucial for Mayo to avoid a bad start. They got away with it against Cork but, as Kerry proved against Mayo in '04 and '06, they are merciless if they get an early advantage. Kerry know that the longer Mayo can stay in contention, the more their confidence will rise, so the plan will be to get as much ball as possible into the attack early on.
They will be looking for improved performances from Colm Cooper and Kieran Donaghy to merge with the consistent excellence Darran and Declan O'Sullivan have delivered this year. If that quartet gets their game going in unison, Mayo could be in serious trouble.
Mayo have been infinitely better in the second half of their four previous championship games but, in each case, they were close enough at half-time to make it count. That has to be the target again tomorrow.
There's no doubt that Mayo are playing with a whole new confidence since getting some bad rhythms out of their system against London. There's a growing sense too that James Horan has them moving in very much the right direction. However, this test may have come just too soon. Kerry by four points.
2011 C'ship: Kerry 2-16 Tipperary 0-11; Kerry 1-26 Limerick 3-9; Kerry 1-15 Cork 1-12; Kerry 1-20 Limerick 0-10.
Mayo 0-19 London 2-10 (after extra-time); Mayo 1-12 Galway 1-6; Mayo 0-13 Roscommon 0-11; Mayo 1-13 Cork 2-6.
Last C'ship clash: Kerry 4-15 Mayo 3-5 (2006 All-Ireland final)
Odds: Kerry 1/3; Mayo 10/3; Draw 9/1.
Kerry -- B Kealy; K Young, M O Se, T O'Sullivan; T O Se, E Brosnan, A O'Mahony; B Sheehan, A Maher; 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.