It’s only a few days now till the All-Ireland champions trot out of the visitors’ dressing room at McHale Park to face our lads in what is obviously an important league clash. While we’ve, somewhat unluckily, only garnered a single point from our three NFL outings to date, Kerry already have four points on the board and seem to be shedding their normal early season sluggishness. Their eyes would now seem to be quite firmly focused on collecting yet another league title whereas our more modest ambitions are now centred on retaining our Division 1 status for next year.
There’s no news yet on team selection for Sunday (though there is some stuff on injuries that I’ll return to in a bit) so, at this midweek juncture, it’s probably more appropriate to look back at past clashes than to talk about Sunday’s encounter. There’s plenty of old action (most of it painful, unfortunately) to reflect on as, since the start of 2004, we’ve played them on no fewer than seven occasions. Mayo supporters will need no reminding that we’ve lost five of these encounters, including all three that occurred in the Championship.
For three years running, it was Kerry who put a halt to our All-Ireland ambitions, with those lacerating All-Ireland final losses in 2004 and again in 2006 bookending a more creditable quarter-final defeat to them in 2005. Our recent record against them in the league has been better, as we beat them in Tralee in 2006 and in Castlebar last year, with Kerry’s last win over us in the NFL occurring back in 2005 in Castlebar. They also beat us handily down in Tralee the year before that.
It may be noteworthy that our two wins over Kerry occurred in the first round of the league in early February, a time of the year when the Kingdom tend to be at their most ring-rusty. (When did they last avoid defeat in their opening league match?) The 2005 Castlebar game could provide a better pointer, as it was played around the same time of year as this year’s encounter will be. That day we stood off them and allowed them to build up a match-winning score compiled mainly from long-range points from play. Our 2004 defeat to them in Tralee, when we were well beaten, was also a game played in March.
In aggregate terms for the seven matches, Kerry have racked up 134 points (10-104) to our 102 (7-81). In the three championship clashes, they’ve outscored us significantly, by 71 points (7-50) to 47 (5-32), while, in the league, the aggregate over the four clashes has been 63 points (3-54) to 55 (2-49). No matter how you look at them, those stats aren’t overly encouraging but, in the league at least, it’s true that we’ve provided competitive opposition to the Kingdom.
It’s also worth noting that it’s only since 2004 that we’ve been in such close contact with the Kerrymen, as before then we avoided each other in both league and championship all the way back to our All-Ireland final clash in 1997. We need no reminding about that one either (here’s the match report from the Western in the unlikely event that you do) but, of course, the year before that we did record a memorable victory over the Kingdom in the All-Ireland semi. For that one, you have to rely on the sweet memories you retain yourself of the day as online records don’t stretch that far back. (Mine include James Nallen’s goal, missing James Horan’s coup de grace at the end as I was standing up letting out a stream of crestfallen Kerrymen who were leaving early and then, later on, shouting pleasantries up at the RTE press box (where we hoped Pat Spillane was still ensconced) from the sacred turf itself. A very, very, good day that was).
It’s that 1996 victory which stands out as the only true high point of our various clashes with the Kerrymen in recent years and it goes without saying that we owe them one (or three) on Sunday. While a win this coming weekend won’t do anything to lessen the painful memories of those scalding All-Ireland final losses, it wouldn’t do us any harm either.
As mentioned above, no teams for Sunday have been announced so far but there was some information in the Mayo News yesterday about injuries and stuff that’s worth mentioning. In his match preview, Mike Finnerty says that if BJ doesn’t recover in time, Kieran Conroy – who came on for him against Laois – could get the nod to line out at full-back. Mike quotes Johnno who, in relation to Conroy playing full-back, says that:
“Sometimes you just get a hunch about a fella and I just had a hunch about him playing in the full-back position. He also marked David Brady in a challenge game against Ballina recently and did well.”
While that all sounds fine, Johnno clearly also had a similar hunch not too long ago about deploying BJ there and I think it’s fair to say that, despite BJ’s fine battling qualities no matter where he plays, the general conclusion on that particular experiment hasn’t been universally positive. Sean Rice is still in there too, batting gamely for BJ at full-back and Johnno himself in yesterday’s Examiner put BJ’s troubles in the Laois game down to his ankle problem and the fact that he was marking Brendan Quigley. I think if he’s fit, BJ will line out at full-back but the injury might provide the necessary cover for some much-needed experimentation, even if Donaghy isn’t the kind of gent one would necessarily want to be testing new hypotheses against.
In terms of other injuries, Mike says that both Chris Barrett and Alan Dillon look doubtful. David Heaney will probably slot in at half-back instead of Barrett while Trevor, Killer or maybe Pat Harte could line out on the forty. Ronan is almost certain to return to midfield, with James Gill, Seamus O’Shea and Tom Parsons in contention for the other midfield slot. Barry Moran is also fit again so maybe the time is right to revisit this two-man full-forward line idea.
Kerry, meanwhile, will continue to blood all that new talent spilling off the conveyor belt but, according to the Examiner, it looks as if Darragh O Se is likely to make his first appearance of the year in the Green and Gold on Sunday. It also appears that Sean O’Sullivan won’t be fit for the game, having twisted his knee. And, in the same piece, Pat O’Shea is, needless to say, playing down Kerry’s chances. “Trying our best” indeed: sometimes that put-on gormlessness really does grate a bit.
Finally, you’ve probably seen that other report in the Mayo News about the absolutely horrific injury suffered by Mayo goalkeeper Kenneth O’Malley some months back. Like many others, I had no idea that anything of this kind had befallen the poor guy. These kind of horrendous, freakish things do happen on the field of play and too often, I suppose, those of us sitting on the sidelines expect the guys out on the field to give their all without giving any thought to the possible consequences. Here’s hoping Kenneth makes a full and speedy recovery from what has obviously been such a terrible setback.