Kerry’s All-Ireland final victories over Mayo in 2004 and 2006 were two of the most one-sided affairs of modern times. Can they erase those painful memories on Sunday afternoon?
The match: Kerry v Mayo
Where and When: Croke Park, Sunday, 3.30pm
The plot: Often derided as eternal optimists and held up as the laughing stock of the GAA world, perhaps it is time to look at Mayo in a different light. Nobody can simply write off what happened at the hands of Sunday’s opponents in two All-Ireland finals in the last decade, but it is a credit to the men in Green and Red that only the Kingdom (nine to Mayo’s four, Cork have also been in four) have lined out in more All-Ireland finals in the last 15 years.
And while little should be read into that record in terms of its relevance to Sunday’s encounter, little should also be read into their performances against Kerry in both ‘04 and 06’ as James Horan’s side are a far different animal than what went before. The concession of only four points in their last three second half performances points to a team that are not only defensively stingy, but a team that are at their best coming down the closing straight.
But what of Kerry? Apart from one half of total football against Cork in the Munster Final, their performances have been decidedly mixed. As such, there seems to be a suggestion that they have not yet shown their full hand and could explode with a trademark textbook timing with Sam Maguire in sight, and it would be no surprise if that proves to be the case.
What Sunday’s game is likely to be decided upon is the performance of the Kerry forward line and how Mayo deal with the threat.
Declan O'Sullivan is the lynchpin of the most potent attack in the country
If they are in the mood and get the right ball, they will shoot the lights out. No defence can live with Messrs Cooper, Donaghy and the two O’Sullivans on their day.
Mayo’s strategy, then, will probably rely on cutting out the supply from the Kerry midfield and the half back line and making sure that if the ball does come in, that their half is stocked with plenty of men to try and ensure plenty of congestion amongst the Kerry forwards. If they do that, they can break at pace and could make hay against a vulnerable looking Kerry half back line.
Mayo have earned plenty of admirers for their displays so far and rightly so and while the scalp of the Kingdom may be a bridge too far, it is highly unlikely that we will see a repeat of the massacres of recent years.
Kerry: Brendan Kealy; Killian Young, Marc O Se, Tom O Sullivan; Tomas O Se, Eoin Brosnan, Aidan O'Mahony; Anthony Maher, Bryan Sheehan; Darran O'Sullivan, Declan O'Sullivan, Donnchadh Walsh; Colm Cooper, Kieran Donaghy, Kieran O'Leary.
Mayo: R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; R Feeney, D Vaughan, T Mortimer; A O'Shea, S O'Shea; K McLoughlin, A Dillon, A Moran; E Varley, A Freeman, C O'Connor.
Star man (Kerry): On their day, any one of the Kingdom’s six forwards could be the star of the show but one couldn’t be impressed with what Darran O’Sullivan has brought to the table so far this year.
It’s not just the two 'Goal of the Season' contenders he’s scored, but he’s playing with a confidence that was perhaps not always evident when he burst onto the scene a few years back. Provided he’s fully recovered from the hamstring injury picked up in the quarter-final, he could pose all sorts of problems for the Mayo defence.
Star man (Mayo): It was said of Mayo after their near-death experience in London that they were sorely lacking on-field leaders, but one man who stepped up to the plate that day and in every outing since is Andy Moran. An All-Star nominee at wing back in 2009, Moran took none other than Michael Shields to the cleaners in the quarter-final win over Cork.
Joe’s verdict: As much as we would love an upset, we think Kerry will prevail by two or three points.