JPM has come onto the guest slot a few times this summer to give his views on the main championship contenders. He’s back again now to provide his assessment on our semi-final showdown with Kerry on Sunday week.
It’s August 11th 2011 and in GAA football terms that means only one thing. Four teams left in the All-Ireland championship and the melting pot is now bubbling with anticipation and desire to reach the ultimate goal of contesting the big one on Sunday, September the 18th. Of the four teams left, North, South, East and West have all produced their respective champions and these winners are still on the yellow brick road with the end of the rainbow in sight. This time last year it was the complete opposite with all representatives making their way here via the qualifiers. What a difference a year makes eh? So much for all this talk of the provincial titles being lessened with time. Unfortunately for two, however, at the end of these shootouts they will be felled. Who’s left standing remains to be seen, but assessments can always be made. So it’s game caps on.
Well so far this year Kerry are nothing if not consistent. They play a somewhat similar game to Cork where guys switch around at ease and all sections are encouraged to attack when the opportunities arise. The difference between Kerry and Cork is that in possession Kerry plays it up the field far faster. Cork used a hand passing and direct running route but Kerry employ the 25-30 yard kick pass to cover the distance. This allows their forwards the space required to attack and pick off their scores and that’s why Kerry’s brilliance this year has shone through their forwards.
To date the most outstanding forward in this year’s championship has been Kerry’s Darran O’Sullivan. His goal in the Munster final was followed up in Croke Park by a finish that Pelé himself would nod to in approval. Alongside Darran sits Declan, and I would say he too is having his best ever season to date in the Kerry jersey, choosing his passes and points so far with nonchalant ease. So much so that the other three chief Kerry forwards of Galvin, Donaghy and the Gooch have even been somewhat overshadowed.
Kerry’s weaknesses this year have been identified as being in their midfield and defence. However the return of Tomás Ó Sé has enhanced this whole area. Not to mention his own attacking ability. Also the impact of Killian Young is very significant. He was positioned at corner-back against Limerick and his pace and skill shone through in that game. For me he was one of their best players on the pitch. My own gut feeling (especially after the Tomás Ó Sé interview) was that the strategy Kerry used against Limerick was really the blueprint for them playing Cork. The question of course is will they now stick with it? Difficult to know as Mayo are not Cork.
Our strengths this year rely a lot with our own O’Shea brothers around the middle of the park. Traditionally this is where we’ve always been strong and the boys have made this area their own throughout each championship game. If things are not going well for Kerry here, then the likelihood is that Donaghy will be moved out and possibly Declan O’Sullivan moved in. Overall I think Kerry will stick with their last gameplan but tweak it based on Jack O’Connor’s personal assessments of us.
In fairness to Mayo a Connacht title and a devastating defeat of the reigning All-Ireland champions in Croke Park is on average more than sufficient for Mayo supporters to be proud of. Completing it in the manner they did coming from the soul searching of Ruislip to a win from six points down also says a lot for their mentality. Mayo this year has adopted a ‘never say die’ approach and, alongside that, stoical management has steered them through choppy waters and insulting accusations to this subsequent milestone.
No one should underestimate the James Horan effect. His overall attitude and decision-making have unified the team and tactically the man has been nothing short of phenomenal. Who would have forecast the switch of Andy Moran into the full-forward line? That was a brilliant move by management and ultimately it had a major say in swaying both the Cork and Roscommon games in our favour. Andy’s systematic demolition of Cork captain Michael Shields was a joy to watch for all Mayo supporters.
He has also taken the pressure off Trevor Mortimer. The move to wing-back has rejuvenated Mortimer and he seems much happier here to play his natural game. James is not afraid either to make changes to key positions and the replacement of full-back Alan Feeney shows there is no favouritism being shown towards positions, players or clubs. Plus he is a positive man. His speech after we were paired with Cork in the quarter- final draw, when so many Mayo supporters heads would have dropped immediately, was a sign of a someone proudly standing up for his team and county.
Our detractors would say that we are actually a team of grafters with little or no stars. Maybe so but the lack of sunshine boys means this team has to fight for each other. Do they make mistakes? Sure they do. It was obvious from the Cork game that some lads are still getting used to this level of football. Carrying the ball blindly into tackles to invariably lose it does look naïve. And we made some really bad shooting choices against Cork. Imagine if we had more composure and had taken a few more of those second half misses. We could have beaten Cork by 7 or 8 points. But again give them a break. It was their first proper opportunity to play on a clear day, not to mention playing this level of football in Croke Park against the All-Ireland champions.
Although it must be said that Cork were complacent. Cork couldn’t have been any other way. Also it follows that the happiest group of supporters now (after ourselves) are the Kerry supporters. The Kingdom will be overwhelming favourites the next day but they won’t be heading into this match with their eyes closed. No way!
So are they beatable? Well, Kerry played a counter-attacking style against Limerick and from watching it was noticeable the amount of times Kerry had everyone bar two (Gooch and Donaghy) in their own half defending and working to win possession back. In fact at one stage Kerry had everyone except those two guys back behind their own 45. So Kerry too can play that “horrible blanket defence”! When the ball was won back, however, they counter-attacked immediately and raced through the open Limerick spaces scoring with ease. This happened time and time again. So one of the keys to beating them is to somehow disrupt this counter-attacking space and pace gameplan.
Secondly they must not be allowed to score those vital goals. Goals win games and Kerry’s ability on the ball to create goal opportunities for their composed forwards has to be nullified. We were very fortunate in several instances against Cork not to concede more goals. Paul Kerrigan, John Miskella and Fintan Goold could all have scored crucial goals the last day. So Mayo’s central defence is a pivotal area for us. We have to be exceptionally vigilant here and the ball must be kept out of this danger area as much as possible.
Finally we must not let Kerry get the good start that they desire. This game needs to be a battle royal so we have to continue to excel in midfield. ‘Star’ may be out there and if things begin to heat up (as they generally do wherever he’s around), well someone needs to ‘put down a marker’ fairly quickly. And the same for any of the rest of the Kerry team who will dish it out themselves when opportunities arise. Bossing Kerry here and in this middle third is vital for us to be able to create our own chances and quash theirs. I think we will be the stronger here from the Cork game as our lads now have the experience of winning against one of the big guns and also have a better idea of what they are about in Croke Park.
At the end of the day semi-finals are there to be won and, to be honest, it doesn’t matter how you win them. We’ll have had three weeks to prepare for Kerry and the goal now has to be to reach the decider. In some eyes we are still “Junk Bond Status” but to others we are (as one man expertly penned) the “Dogs of War”.
So as Mayo supporters what do you want now from this team? Personally it’s that they go out and continue with the attitude and commitment demonstrated so far. That the resilience and steely determination so prevalent this year will intensify and persist as our mantra against Kerry.
Finally for those of you that climbed the Reek for our sake the last day I could suggest you do it again. But it’s imperative you all gather together as many as you can and get to Croke Park promptly. I think this one could well go down to the wire and they’ll need all the support we can give them up there.
And by now this Mayo team surely deserves it!