Wednesday 21 August 2019

Westerners can overcome fatigue and stay in semi-final contention

James Horan. Photo: Sportsfile
James Horan. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Mayo are better than Meath, but that doesn't guarantee they will win tomorrow as other factors intervene to give the Royals a chance of keeping their semi-final hopes alive.

Having hit various targets for the season, including being promoted to Division 1, reaching the Leinster final and qualifying for the Super 8s, Meath are in bonus territory, which allows them to play with a sense of freedom.

It's a luxury not available to Mayo. There has been an urgency about them for several years, growing to near-desperation as the quest for All-Ireland glory continues.

It's still going on, and is now fuelled by reality which holds that unless they deliver this year it will be too late for many of them. They have more players aged 29 and over than any other county and while most of them are still doing well, time is running out.

Last Sunday's long journey home provided Mayo with ample opportunity to assess where they stood and while they knew that reaching the semi-final remained in their own hands, they would have also realised just how difficult it was going to be.

They were flat and uninspiring against Kerry, who put down a marker at the throw-in and maintained their dominance all the way.

They appeared fresh and determined, whereas Mayo looked very much like a side feeling the draining effects of playing a fourth game in 22 days.

Meath have had a more balanced programme and despite losing to Donegal by nine points last Sunday are in a reasonably good position psychologically.

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They played better than the final scoreline suggested, having led by a point at the three-quarter stage before lapses in concentration allowed Donegal to seize the initiative and establish a winning momentum.

Donegal's leaders found a way of quelling the Royal rebellion, something James Horan will be hoping applies to his side tomorrow.

There's certainly enough experience across every line to guide Mayo through difficult periods, so the question is whether they can summon the required energy to drive on.

It was there in abundance against Galway two weeks ago, but then a clash with their great rivals was always going to lift them. There was a different feel in Killarney against a Kerry team determined to stamp their credentials as All-Ireland contenders.

A significant difference now is that Meath don't have as potent a forward line as Kerry, so the Mayo defence won't be under as much pressure.

That being the case, there is enough reason to believe that Mayo can keep the concession rate sufficiently low to give Darren Coen and Co in attack a good chance of running in a winning score, albeit by a small margin.

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