Monday 23 April 2018

Mayo must play to their own strengths to derail Kerry

Rochford has to let his brilliant half-backs off the leash if they are to keep dream alive

There must be a temptation for Mayo to move Lee Keegan to midfield but it could be a plan that is worth keeping in reserve. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
There must be a temptation for Mayo to move Lee Keegan to midfield but it could be a plan that is worth keeping in reserve. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Peter Canavan

In some ways, it has been typical Mayo and typical Kerry to this point.

Kerry have done their usual thing - started the year poorly, before improving bit by bit and then, like only they can, they come out and win the league.

The championship has been similarly plain sailing for them. They must be one of very few counties who can win an All-Ireland quarter-final against an up-and-coming team like Galway by eight points yet say they are struggling for traction and are disappointed with themselves even though they are in the last four.

If Kerry have kept things simple, then Mayo's form has fluctuated wildly between brilliant highs and near-fatal lows. No one provides more entertainment to the neutral.

At times their football has been as good as anything out there. At others it looked like the humane thing to do was let them and their All-Ireland dream die.

To their credit, Mayo have done what they always do and hung tough but it's still hard to get a feel for where they are at.

I said about two or three weeks ago there was something spectacular in them but I still don't know if that spectacular will be an All-Ireland title or a total implosion.

What I do know is that Mayo have to go for it on Sunday if they are to beat Kerry. They have to play to their own strengths.

I read various pieces this week about what they should do to cope with Kieran Donaghy given how much trouble he has given them down through the years.

There were suggestions that they could play Aidan O'Shea there to cope with him physically. Tom Parsons was another name that popped up. But that's robbing Peter to pay Paul and I think it would be a mistake to play the game on Kerry's terms like that.


Mayo's best chance is to play to their own strengths and that means letting that brilliant half-back line off the leash.

Stephen Rochford has a few different options as to who he starts there but they can provide a serious threat in attack.

It was that line that did so much damage against Roscommon and they can hurt Kerry with those players too. I think it would be a mistake to change things too much.

Kerry's strength lies in their full-forward line of Donaghy, James O'Donoghue and Paul Geaney.

No matter what you do, those three are going to have an impact on the game but the best way of limiting their influence is by disrupting the ball going in.

In that regard, Seamus O'Shea will have to have a huge game. He is never going to be the type of player that grabs the headlines but he will do the spade work, force fellas out of the game and get turnovers.

He has performed that role to good effect against the big teams before and they'll need him to have another big game to upset Kerry's rhythm.

Of course, Rochford will have to detail someone to pick up Donaghy. Galway and Kevin Walsh went for size over experience when they sent David Walsh out to track him. It didn't work but Galway didn't do themselves any favours in the way they approached it. 

When Donaghy scored his goal there were two Galway defenders around him but no one tried to bump him or block his run.

He was allowed to take off from where he wanted and when he landed, go where he wanted. Contrast that to what happens him when he plays Dublin - he never gets a moment.

Ger Cafferkey has taken a bit of stick this year but he has size and has been around the block. If he can get physical with Donaghy, and the ball coming in is disrupted, then they have a chance of limiting his influence.

Mayo will also have to decide what to do with Leeroy Keegan. Keegan missed the last day through illness and after his performance in the first half against Roscommon in the drawn game, they could be tempted to push him to midfield but I'm not sure about starting him there.

Keegan would have the legs on anyone who might be in there for Kerry but I also think they'd quickly recognise that his opposite number would likely be better in the air and they'd look to exploit that.

If things went against Mayo early on it would be a nice switch to have in the back pocket, so I would leave him in the half-back line.

I don't see Éamonn Fitzmaurice changing too much. Putting Paul Murphy back at centre-forward to combat some of Mayo's big runners is an option but I think he will be in defence.

Tadhg Morley and Peter Crowley are combative and Murphy's footballing class complements them nicely in the half-back line.

I think Donnchadh Walsh and possibly Mikey Geaney will be asked for a big 45 or 50 minutes of work in tracking Mayo's runners. That's their natural game.

Then I can see Fitzmaurice turning to the likes of Darran O'Sullivan and Stephen O'Brien when things get a little looser.

Mayo have a real chance. Galway shone a light on how Kerry could be hurt and Mayo will get one or two goal chances. Whether they take those will have a big say in who makes the final. But I think they have to go for the jugular because Kerry can hurt you in too many ways if you sit back and invite them on.

We're in line for the best game of the championship so far. You can be fairly certain that Mayo will put in a big performance. They'll be physical and brave and leave it all out on the pitch but I'm going for Kerry on the basis that they have the forwards to win the game. Even if they only have 40pc of the possession, Kerry are just more clinical than Mayo.

And in many ways, isn't that typical?



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