Friday 6 December 2019

All signposts after Super 8s point towards a Dublin versus the Kingdom decider

MY BALL: Dublin keeper Evan Comerford beats Tyrone’s Richie Donnelly in this aerial duel. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
MY BALL: Dublin keeper Evan Comerford beats Tyrone’s Richie Donnelly in this aerial duel. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Mayo had a poor Connacht Championship, losing to eventual winners Roscommon, but they were able to refocus with victories over Down, Armagh and neighbours Galway to make it through to the Super 8 group stages.

Those three performances were just about good enough, in terms of winning the games, as the Super 8 games afford a team like Mayo an opportunity to build some serious momentum.

Kerry welcomed them to Killarney in the first phase of encounters and gave them a lesson.

It is so important to win the first game, as, indeed, Kerry learned to their cost last season, so Mayo had a serious hole to dig themselves out of after that result. They knew that anything other than a victory over Meath in Croke Park would have seen their interest in the championship ended, but they managed to win comfortably with a late scoring spree.

The concluding game in the group was also a win-or-bust scenario against a talented Donegal team but home advantage was worth a point or two and when you back this Mayo team into a corner they nearly always produce their best performance.

It was a terrific result in the end, but they still continue to make things very difficult for themselves by doing the silly and avoidable things that have stopped them winning one or more All-Irelands in recent seasons.


Too many Mayo players have a shoot-on-sight policy, even though the right option is to play the ball to a colleague in a better position. It is their Achilles heel and they will always be a nearly team unless they sort this problem.

Lee Keegan, Andy Moran, Fionn McDonagh, Darren Coen and Cillian O'Connor were all guilty of shooting from poor positions but, fortunately for them, all the misses didn't turn out to be fatal on this occasion.

There was, however, a lot of typically brave football and the tactics were certainly spot on in terms of the kickouts and the man-marking duties.

Paddy Durcan was back in the team and he was given the unenviable task of tracking Donegal dynamo Ryan McHugh and he never allowed McHugh to influence the game in any way, shape or form.

Durcan also managed to give huge support to his midfielders and forwards and also managed to fire over three scores of his own from play. A really outstanding performance from the Castlebar Mitchel's man.

Lee Keegan tracked Michael Murphy and he also did a terrific job. Murphy came into the game more in the second half, but Mayo were always able to nick a point or two to keep them a safe distance apart.

So Mayo find themselves in yet another All-Ireland semi-final and who would bet against them. It is going to be a humdinger this Saturday against the Dubs at a packed headquarters against the five-in-a-row chasers.

Mayo have consistently put it up to Dublin since the beginning of the decade and it's their 'off the cuff' all-out attacking game that has troubled JIm Gavin's men. It is a style of play that is hard to defend against and if they bring the same type of game on Saturday and manage to convert a high percentage of their chances, then they will be extremely difficult to beat again.

One of the big talking points this week will centre on the number one spot for Mayo. Will it be Robbie Hennelly or will it be David Clarke? I think the fact that they are two very good goalkeepers hasn't helped and the interchanging over the years has led to confusion among the players and supporters.

It has been another stick to beat this Mayo team with over the years and the debate is set to continue. Bringing Clarke back in for this one would be a mistake, I feel, but it certainly wouldn't be a surprise if James Horan opts for the better shot-stopper.

The team will arrive in Croke Park with plenty of self-confidence and, more importantly, with almost a full strength squad to pick from. Diarmuid O'Connor is all set to play a part while Mathew Ruane has made a great recovery from a collarbone break just seven weeks ago.

Both players could be hugely influential and the Dubs will need to deliver their 'A' game to keep their own dreams alive.

Yesterday, both Tyrone and Dublin rested key players, as expected, with Dublin playing more regulars and a certain Diarmuid Connolly, who did well at times.

The match lacked bite and intensity so it was a comfortable afternoon for both sets of players. Connolly looked fit and healthy and received a great reception from the travelling supporters. He may well have a massive say before the end of the championship.

It promises to be a really great weekend with Kerry back in a semi-final against a Tyrone team that is improving year on year.

Kerry opened their Super 8 campaign with a very impressive performance against Mayo but have not reached those same levels in their next two games. The pressure on them is huge from within the county and they won't lack motivation next weekend.

Mickey Harte rested his first team yesterday so they will be fresh and ready for this one. The green and gold jersey has brought the best out of them over the years, but I fancy Kerry to find a way past the Tyrone defence and into a final where the Dubs will be waiting.

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