Friday 19 January 2018

Mayo v Kerry: Breaking down the age profiles of both semi-finalists

Andy Moran and (inset) Donnchadh Walsh
Andy Moran and (inset) Donnchadh Walsh
Kerry's David Moran. Photo by Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

They’re not exactly ‘Dad’s Army’ but the age profile of the Kerry and Mayo squads for Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final is certainly higher than what might be expected in the modern game.

Indeed, it’s a concern in both counties that more talent has not asserted itself sufficiently to squeeze past the long-established names and into the starting teams.

No fewer than nine of the 23 Mayo players who featured against Roscommon in the quarter-final (draw and replay) are aged between 29 and 33.

That increases to 18 when 25 years or over becomes the yardstick, with only Brendan Harrison, Diarmuid O’Connor, Paddy Durcan, Conor Loftus and Stephen Coen aged 24 or less.

Eight of the Kerry players who featured in the Munster final win over Cork and the All-Ireland quarter-final  success over Galway are in the 28-34 bracket, with a further seven aged  27. Only Tadhg Morley, Jack Barry, Jack Savage and Kevin McCarthy are younger than 25.

It leaves Kerry with an average age of 27.5, more than five years older than the great young squad Mick O’Dwyer sent out to win the 1975 All-Ireland title in what was the launch of the most successful period by any county in football history.

The similarities between the current Kerry and Mayo teams and those that produced two memorable games  in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final underlines how relatively little change there has been in either camp since then.

Of the Kerry team that started the replay in Limerick three years ago, all except the retired Aidan O’Mahony featured in the two most recent outings.  That’s an unusually high retention rate for any county over three years.

Eleven of the starting Mayo team from the 2014 replay featured against Roscommon, while Tom Parsons, a sub three years ago, was a first-choice midfielder last Monday week and did very well.

Mayo’s underage supply lines appeared to get a significant boost last year when the All-Ireland U-21 tittle was secured for the first time in a decade but Diarmuid O’Connor was the only member of that team to start against Roscommon ten days ago, while Stephen Coen and Conor Loftus came on as subs.

O’Connor was already an established senior when Mayo won the U-21 title, having played in the 2015 campaign. Most of that successful U-21 team were aboard the All-Ireland-winning minor squad of 2013 but otherwise the underage scene has not been especially productive for Mayo, even at Connacht level.

Kerry also had a bad run at underage level for several years up to 2013 when the minor carousel cranked up. It has since delivered five successive Munster titles while this year’s squad are bidding for an All-Ireland four-timer. They play Cavan in the semi-final on Sunday.

That extended glory run at U-18 augurs well for the future but the failure of the U-21s to win even a Munster title in 2009-’16 is perhaps the best indicator of why the turnover at senior level has been slower in recent times than what would normally be expected in Kerry.

Taking the All-Ireland title in 2014 – a task made easier than anticipated by Donegal’s surprise win over Dublin in the semi-final – gave the current crop of Kerry players genuine status but they are now under immense pressure to deliver more glory or else make way for a new generation.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice – who has yet to preside over a championship win against Dublin after three attempts – also knows how high the stakes are.

Mutterings have rumbled around Kerry that his selection policy is too conservative but clearly he believes the challengers to the current squad haven’t done enough to dislodge the first choices.

His trust is made easier by the 2014 All-Ireland success and this year’s Allianz League final win over Dublin, which has raised hopes in Kerry that the balance of power is poised to swing back to the south-west.

Stephen Rochford has no such comfort blanket in Mayo where the pressure grows every year in direct proportion to the lengthening wait for the end of the All-Ireland drought.

They have had three management teams (James Horan, Pat Holmes/Noel Connelly, Rochford) over four seasons but, despite that, there has been relatively little change in the squad over that period.

Even successive defeats by Galway in the Connacht Championship led to no significant adjustments, largely due to the positive response to both setbacks. This year’s fightback has taken Mayo to within one win of reaching the All-Ireland final for the fourth time in six seasons, a consistency rate that not even Kerry can match.

They have done so with an ageing team that simply refuses to yield to the clock. The same applies in Kerry.

Despite their enduring qualities, this Sunday’s game will probably mark the final championship outing for quite a few players on the losing side since the age profile will demand a serious overhaul next year.

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