Saturday 24 February 2018

Kerry's room for expansion could leave Mayo back on misery row

Click to enlarge graphic
Click to enlarge graphic
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Their players had given everything but Éamonn Fitzmaurice and Stephen Rochford still insisted there was more in them.

And they are probably right. It won't come in the area of physical endeavour, which couldn't possibly have been higher in the grim, unpleasant conditions that swirled around Croke Park last Sunday, but there may be some additions to the more refined aspects of the fascinating contest.

"The six-day turnaround isn't the biggest deal for us. I think there's a lot more in us," said Rochford after watching his side complete their eighth championship game of the season, four of which ended level, with two going to extra-time.

There can be no doubt about Mayo's resilience or indeed their capacity to improve, since there's little similarity between their current form and the misfiring efforts produced against Galway and Derry (in normal time).

Fitzmaurice's take on events was equally interesting. While Mayo had spent much of the summer on a game-per-week rota, Kerry had three outings since June 11, none of which tested them.

"I couldn't put a percentage on it but a game like that (Mayo) is invaluable because, regardless of what you do in training, which we do as intensely as we possibly can, you can't replicate that kind of championship do-or-die stuff," said Fitzmaurice.

It's a valid point. Clare, Cork and Galway merely tickled Kerry's competitive nerve, the latter two coming nowhere near the heights expected from counties of their stature.

Kerry won as they pleased and while it took them all the way to the semi-final, it also left them ill-prepared for the power surge they were about to encounter.

Mayo's superior match conditioning was hugely significant last Sunday. Their reaction times were quicker, handing them an edge which Kerry never quite clawed back.

And yet, it was Mayo who were in trouble twice near the end, first when they needed Paddy Durcan's point to draw level and later as they watched Bryan Sheehan line up a long-distance free to win the game.

It dropped into Aidan O'Shea's hands (if Kieran Donaghy hadn't been replaced a few minutes earlier, the catch would have been a whole lot more difficult) in the final action of the game.

O'Shea's positioning at full-back attracted much of the focus but there were a whole range of other intriguing dimensions which were just as significant.

Sloppy

Kerry's failure to cut out the supply lines to the in-form Andy Moran enabled him to use his craft to amass 1-5 while, at the other end, sloppy Mayo defensive work cost them two goals.

It will be interesting to see how both sides go about correcting the malfunctions which hit them last week. Even more intriguing will be the plans they devise to hit the opposition with something new.

Replays often take on a much different complexion to drawn games, with the Mayo-Roscommon quarter-final being the most recent example. If that happens, Kerry have more scope for improvement.

With the exception of Donaghy and, to a lesser extent, Paul Geaney, their attack was average at best; Anthony Maher struggled at midfield and the full-back line were hit by regular outbreaks of panic.

Mayo gave a more even performance, yet couldn't fully exploit Kerry's problems. The chance may not come again.

And while Rochford talked of their superb physical condition, the impact of their demanding schedule could hit them when least expected.

All of which points to a Kerry victory after another intense struggle.

Irish Independent

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