Sunday 16 December 2018

Replay psychology: 'never assume it will be similar to the drawn game' - Kernan

Former Armagh boss also believes Mayo will keep O'Shea on Donaghy despite his struggles last weekend

Joe Kernan went through five championship replays during his six years in charge of Armagh - winning them all Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Kernan went through five championship replays during his six years in charge of Armagh - winning them all Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Stephen Rochford and Éamonn Fitzmaurice had media duties to fulfil immediately after last Sunday's game but even as they walked back to the dressing-rooms, the replay was already racing through their minds.

They already knew that it would take place today, a quick turnaround requiring shrewd handling.

Playing a Round 4 qualifier six days after a defeat in a provincial final caused angst for many years, with managers and players insisting it was impossible for a team to readjust so quickly after losing a big game.

Results supported that view, with very few beaten provincial finalists winning their next game.

Since neither Kerry nor Mayo lost, it's different for them, but facing into the replay so soon still brings its own range of fresh challenges.

Which side felt better about themselves on the way home last Sunday? Mayo's sense that they got a reprieve would have been more pronounced on two fronts: they scored the equalising point and then watched helplessly as Bryan Sheehan had a chance to win it for Kerry with his late, long-range free, which was off target.

However, once that feeling of relief subsided, Mayo would have realised that another huge opportunity had not been taken as, over the full game, they were the better team.

Conversely, Kerry would have been disappointed not to have closed out the deal late on but would also have known that they were fortunate not to have had their flat periods exploited to a far greater degree.

"It doesn't matter how the game went - the important thing for both teams is that they have another chance. Supporters can debate who should have won and who might have won but it doesn't matter inside the dressing-rooms.

"Once a game ends in a draw, it's important to move on from it very quickly, especially when you're facing the replay in six days," said Joe Kernan, former All-Ireland winning manager with Armagh and currently Ireland's International Rules boss.

He faced five championship replays during his six seasons with Armagh, winning them all, two with Tyrone and one each with Donegal, Cavan and Armagh.

"The most crucial thing of all is to stay positive and to make sure everyone else does too. You will always have players who are disappointed with how they played in the drawn game so you have to get them back into a confident mindset as quickly as possible.

Challenge

"The drawn game is over and can't be changed. Obviously, you can learn from it but not always to the degree people might think.

"No two games are the same so thinking that the second one will run along roughly similar lines to the first one isn't a good idea.

"You've got to see it as a brand-new encounter and a brand-new challenge. Obviously, you tweak things on the basis of what happened in the drawn game but the overall framework remains much the same," said Kernan.

Almost subconsciously, there's a perception in GAA-land that Kerry always win replays and that Mayo lose them. Neither is strictly true.

Of their last six replays, Kerry have won four (v Cork 2015, v Mayo 2014, v Cork 2010 and 2008) and lost two (v Cork 2009 and 2006).

Mayo have won three (v Roscommon 2017, v Laois 2006, v Fermanagh 2004) and lost three (v Dublin 2016 and 2015 and v Kerry 2014) of their last six.

Losing three replays in successive years to two of their great rivals was the ultimate in frustration for Mayo but it doesn't mean a trend has been established.

Indeed, the law of averages suggests that they are due a break in a replay, just as Kerry may be due a defeat.

Rochford's decision to play Aidan O'Shea at full-back on Kieran Donaghy didn't just provide the main talking point last Sunday but also left enough for the entire week.

Will O'Shea will be at No 3 again or should he be restored to his more usual role in Mayo's attacking half?

"I'd say he will be left on Donaghy. Yes, he had problems last Sunday but having gone for it on the basis that Mayo needed him to counteract Donaghy in the air, can they risk changing now?

"What happens if they play O'Shea in the forwards and Donaghy goes to town at the other end? It's an important call for Rochford.

"Having decided to switch O'Shea last Sunday, he will probably go with it again. Bear in mind that O'Shea will have learned an awful lot from that game.

"He needs to get a lot closer to Donaghy on the ground and probably will if they opt to leave him in there. Lads learn a lot very quickly at this level.

"Kerry abandoned the high-ball tactic once they saw O'Shea at full-back but I imagine they will return to it fairly quickly if someone else is marking Donaghy.

"Much of the attention was on O'Shea against Donaghy but there were a lot of other areas that impacted on the game too," said Kernan.

Surprised

Emphasising the positives involves re-visiting the parts of the performance that went well, with a view to getting even more from them next time.

"Mayo will feel that if they had been a bit more precise, they would have scored more, particularly in the first half. They had so much room, they were almost surprised by it. You don't expect to get that in an All-Ireland semi-final.

"Kerry will have looked at how much good ball was played into the Mayo full-forward line. Why wasn't more pressure put on further out? Why were Mayo men allowed to pick their target under so little pressure?

"At the same time, Kerry will also be thinking that they got a draw - and very nearly a win - in a game where they didn't play as well as they can. That's the sort of positive they will have been working off this week," said Kernan.

Favourites for the first game almost always hold the ranking for the replay, something that has happened again this week.

Mayo found themselves in that role against Roscommon for the quarter-final replay and duly delivered, blowing their hapless opponents away in the opening 20 minutes.

"There's an example of how two games played in a week can be so different. Roscommon could have won the first day, yet didn't lay a hand on Mayo in the replay. It can happen, although it's hard to see runaway winners with Kerry and Mayo," said Kernan.

Inevitably, the winners will be classed as 'having learned more from the drawn game', even if it may not be the case.

"You're always going to get that but then the winners take it all," said Kernan.

Who does he fancy to check in for the final?

"I have a sneaking feeling Mayo will win. There's a fierce resilience about them and has been for a long time. You can't see it being more than a one-score win either way, with Mayo just about having the edge."

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