The vast majority of my posts are on horse racing these days, but now that the All Ireland football championship has reached a stage where there might actually be some competitive games I have decided to preview both semi finals. First up this weekend perennial bridesmaids Mayo, who are fortunate to be still involved, take on Kerry at Croke Park and I think their luck will run out against The Kingdom on Sunday. I will post my thoughts on Dublin vs Tyrone next week.
|Star will cause havoc on Sunday.
Mayo have been on a downward spiral ever since Stephen Rochford (or was it the Breaffy contingent) decided to drop David Clarke in favour of Robbie Hennelly in last year’s All Ireland Final replay vs Dublin, a move that backfired spectacularly. Clarke has kept Mayo in this year’s Championship almost single handedly at times and the way he has reacted to that awful decision is testament to his character.
If Mayo had more players with the character shown by their goalkeeper they would have won at least two All Irelands in the last few years, but as the record books show they haven’t. They have somehow found ways to lose matches that they should have won handily, and they have been close to disaster against bang average teams on two occasions this summer. They were also beaten by a Galway team that was dispatched with the minimum of fuss by Kerry.
Mayo were shocking against a poor Derry team in the qualifiers and that was a match they could easily have lost. It was a similar story in the drawn game against Roscommon and though they demolished them in the replay, that was what should have happened in the first meeting. The fact that they struggled to put away those teams, and also lost to Galway in Connacht, does not bode well for their chances against a Kerry team that is on the up.
Kerry have been ticking over nicely since they beat Dublin in the League final earlier this season and while they haven’t been spectacular they have looked assured and confident. A scare against Clare is the only blot on their copybook and the way they clinically disposed of Cork and Galway was very impressive. It looked as though they didn’t need to come out of third gear to beat Galway and I got the sense there is a lot more to come from this Kerry team.
Most counties would struggle to replace a talent like the retired Colm Cooper, but Kerry have great strength in depth. James O’Donoghue has been hampered by injury for some time but he has had a good run this summer and, worryingly for the other teams left in the Championship, he will be hitting top form in the coming weeks. If he can get back to the level of 2014 when he was named footballer of the year he will be a handful for any defence and Eamon Fitzmaurice will be looking for a big performance from him on Sunday.
While Mayo lack forwards who can put the ball over the bar consistently, Kerry have a wealth of options in that area. Paul Geaney is a lethal finisher, as is O’Donoghue, and while Kieran ‘Star’ Donaghy isn’t getting any younger, he has the aerial ability to cause havoc in a Mayo full back line that has struggled all season. Mayo have to rely on the likes of Andy Moran and Cillian O’Connor for scores and while they turned on the style against a porous Roscommon defence they will find life a lot tougher against Kerry’s rearguard.
The most interesting battle in this game will be in midfield and I am a huge fan of David Moran. He has the size, but most importantly he is a fine footballer too, and he has more than enough about him to handle whatever the inconsistent Aidan O’Shea throws at him. He has developed a great partnership with the hugely talented Jack Barry in the engine room and those two are arguably the best midfield pairing in the country at the moment.
I can see Kerry launching the ball high into Donaghy often and early in this contest and if he is in the same form as in previous matches he could have a field day. Mayo’s full back line is a real weak link and the best chance they have is to try and stop the supply. Donaghy’s prowess under a high ball is unparalleled and the Mayo full back line will be having some sleepless nights in the run up to this semi final.
It would be no surprise to see Rochford employ a sweeper in front of the big man, but Donaghy’s handling means he will catch the high balls rather than break them. He has the speed of hand and mind to lay the ball off to on-running team mates and that could mean lots of goal chances for The Kingdom. I can only see one outcome in this match and that is a comfortable win for Kerry. Odds of 15/8 on Kerry (-5) look good to me, and that is the recommendation.