Tuesday 20 March 2018

More to mayo than fighting lost causes

On the basis that you cannot fool all the people all of the time, there is not a lot of interest among neutrals in tomorrow's All-Ireland semi-final and most people expect Kerry to go through the motions of beating Mayo yet again.

Mayo's record against the Kingdom in a couple of recent All-Irelands has not just been poor, it has been embarrassing -- embarrassing for Mayo people in particular, but also for the GAA in general, because sports followers really do not like to see leading teams being slaughtered in an All-Ireland final.

When results like these recent Kerry versus Mayo games occur, some counties go into a permanent state of depression and failure, but the strange thing about Mayo is that they seem to avoid that fate.

They have played some wonderful, high-quality football over the past decade and who can forget their magnificent semi-final victory over Dublin a few years ago when Ciaran McDonald scored one of the greatest points ever seen in Croke Park to snatch victory from the Dubs?

That's why the players and mentors in Mayo are not travelling to Dublin this weekend as carriers of a lost cause.

The GAA public has had an unusual attitude towards Mayo teams over the years, in that while they criticise them heavily on those occasions when they flop in Croke Park, they are still highly respected because of the many wonderful players they keep on producing.

This has to be a definite asset to Mayo manager James Horan and his players this weekend: nobody ever regards Mayo as a mickey mouse football team.

This year is the start of another new regime in the county under Horan, with the panel having been refurbished in recent years.

Many of the fine players of the past decade have gone, but a lot of promising young men have emerged, such as defenders Tom Cunniffe, Donal Vaughan, Ger Cafferkey and Richie Feeney, and the midfield pairing of the O'Shea brothers, possibly the first brothers to have manned the middle in an All-Ireland championship game, unless somebody knows otherwise.

Over the years, many Mayo forwards with big reputations gained from underage or colleges and third-level competitions have turned out to be brittle in mind and body when the real pressure came on from some of the strong traditional counties.

Tomorrow's game will once again pose that question for the younger Mayo players: can they prove against Kerry that they have the mental steel to take the inevitable adversity that will be inflicted on them at some stage?

As regards the physical stakes, based on the great victory over Cork last time out, Mayo players seem to be ready to handle whatever comes their way, but they will face a sterner test against a hungry and well-prepared Kerry team than they did against an over-confident Cork side that realised too late they were in serious trouble.

Kerry are still on trial, even at this late stage of the championship season. Their defence and midfield has been erratic this year largely because of reshuffling caused by choice -- with Eoin Brosnan returning at centre half-back -- and injuries. But this is the strongest available selection Jack O'Connor has had, and that is a big boost.

While most people are expecting the game to be decided by the contest between Mayo's backs and Kerry's star forward line, it could well be that a rejuvenated Kingdom backline will be the key component in deciding this game by keeping Mayo's score down to around 12 points.

In their own different ways, Kerry and Mayo have provided some of the finest football at inter-county level going back through the last century. It would be nice if they match that with a great performance tomorrow and hopefully there will be little or no massed defences -- the very essence of negative football nowadays.

Irish Independent

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