Mayo likely to re­gret not putting Kerry away the first day

Kerry may have the greater scope to im­prove but Mayo don’t have to let them

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Kevin McS­tay Keith Duggan on why Mayo should trust their man­ager’s in­stincts; Malachy Clerkin on Jim Gavin’s riches and Seán Mo­ran on the Dublin-Ty­rone ri­valry

The worry for Mayo is that de­spite all that, hav­ing played pretty de­cently through­out, go­ing into in­jury-time they were still a point be­hind a Kerry team that weren’t play­ing well. What else emerged? As gen­er­ally ac­cepted, Mayo are bet­ter de­fend­ers, both man-to-man and as a unit whereas Kerry have the more nat­u­ral scorers, like Paul Geaney.

What few would have ex­pected was Mayo’s best for­ward per­for­mance for a long time, which of course raises a con­cern for the re­play. What hap­pens if Andy Mo­ran doesn’t score 1-5 this week­end?

Mayo’s Achilles heel re­mains miss­ing very easy chances in front of goal and I counted five or six last week­end. They are the mis­takes that mean Mayo don’t get away from other teams: ball into the goalie’s hands, and misses from around the D.

On the O’Shea-Don­aghy issue there is no doubt Kerry were the ben­e­fi­cia­ries but that’s ir­rel­e­vant now. What do they do for the re­play? The key ques­tion in man-mark­ing is, are you there for the con­test? When the ball comes be­tween you and your man are you close enough to put pres­sure on the ball?

In most of the sit­u­a­tions I saw, Ai­dan wasn’t. He was mind­ing the house or hedg­ing his bets – as happened dra­mat­i­cally for the Stephen O’Brien goal when he was 10 or 15 me­tres off. I’d be sur­prised if they do it again.

As an al­ter­na­tive, Mayo can very eas­ily tran­si­tion to a sweeper. The manner in which they play is very much coun­ter­at­tack, through the hands, off the shoul­der. Tac­ti­cally you could make the point that Ai­dan O’Shea can slow things down a bit for Mayo and when he was back at full back the tran­si­tion through the mid­dle was much sharper and quicker. Also, Lee Kee­gan had been suf­fer­ing from cel­luli­tis and been on an­tibi­otics for a nine- or 10-day pe­riod. Whether he’s moved to the half-back line or mid­field, you’d expect him to im­prove.

Kerry have to do some­thing though. They can ei­ther try to up it dra­mat­i­cally, man for man, which is prob­a­bly their pref­er­ence, and come to terms with Andy Mo­ran, Ja­son Do­herty and Cil­lian O’Con­nor or else they’re go­ing to have to take a bit of an in­sur­ance pol­icy and drop some­one back.

Mayo didn’t do well on the kick-outs. Go­ing long is some­thing David Clarke and the back-room team may con­sider be­cause a lot of the short kick-outs were just about claimed by Mayo de­fend­ers but with not much to spare.

Re­me­dial ac­tion

Jack Barry will prob­a­bly start for Kerry in that area. Ea­monn Fitz­mau­rice took very im­me­di­ate, re­me­dial ac­tion in terms of subs whereas Mayo only used four and two were in the clos­ing min­utes so it was hardly the sub­sti­tu­tion pol­icy of a tired team.

There was con­tro­versy over one of the ear­lier ones when Colm Boyle went off. There was a lot spo­ken about the GPS sys­tems but I’m not sure Mayo have a live GPS. The sys­tem mostly used is the one where you down­load and get the re­sults by Tues­day – which is a bit late if a fella’s in the red zone. There may well be another mon­i­tor they’re us­ing but what­ever they’re mak­ing judge­ment calls on, they’re not ee­jits. They know best; we’re the ones look­ing over the wall.

Un­der­dogs tend not to win re­plays but that’s not ter­ri­bly sci­en­tific. A bet­ter con­sid­er­a­tion is who has more room for im­prove­ment and who has learned the most. Kerry have more room to im­prove and are mar­ket lead­ers in siz­ing up and fig­ur­ing out and gen­er­ally get things right the second time around.

On Sunday the con­text for the second semi-fi­nal, and one Dublin have been bril­liant at keep­ing a lid on while it’s bub­bling away, is the prospect of the three-in-a-row. It’s been well-han­dled and pre­cau­tions were taken dur­ing the league so that they would be well-rested.

The truth is both teams have ar­rived in the semi-fi­nal without be­ing tested. My sense is both are pro­gress­ing very nicely. They’re quite sim­i­lar in that they’re both very mo­bile and counter-at­tack­ing teams. Ty­rone have def­i­nitely im­proved their scor­ing threat. It doesn’t match Dublin’s but it’s up there.

They can counter Dublin with what is in my view the best de­fen­sive sys­tem in the coun­try. They are edgy, phys­i­cal, very fast on the counter once they turn you over and they pro­tect their goal.

They are also re­lent­less and don’t get flus­tered by set­backs.

Where Dublin have the edge is that they are a bet­ter counter-at­tack­ing team and pos­sess more threats from deeper po­si­tions. Then if it’s not work­ing for them, I don’t think any­one would ar­gue they don’t have the best bench in the coun­try as well as the best bench cul­ture.

Ty­rone have their own panel depth with David Mul­grew named to start after his ex­plo­sive con­tri­bu­tion as re­place­ment against Ar­magh.

Mickey Harte has said he’s put an aw­ful lot of thought into this and when you con­sider his cre­den­tials you can re­ally see them putting it up to Dublin. Niall Mor­gan has a great kick-out and has greatly im­proved to the point where he’s a key part of the game plan.

De­fen­sively they’re that bit bet­ter but I feel Dublin will have an ad­van­tage at mid­field and up front. Colm Ca­vanagh’s sweeper du­ties stretch Ty­rone in the mid­dle. He has amaz­ing en­ergy but Dublin’s de­liv­ery in the area is that bit more con­sis­tent, es­pe­cially with Brian Fen­ton com­ing into his best form and up front they have so many options although I can’t see Diar­muid Con­nolly start­ing.

Dublin have the work ethic but they also have the at­tack­ing flair in terms of move­ment, skill and a bet­ter kick­ing game. There’s more threat and va­ri­ety to what they do.

‘‘ Kerry are mar­ket lead­ers in siz­ing up and fig­ur­ing out and gen­er­ally get things right the second time around

Semi-fi­nal re­play Kerry v Mayo Croke Park, Satur­day, 3pm On TV: RTÉ, Sky Sports KEITH DUGGAN

This mag­netic ri­valry has be­come a guess­ing game. Weigh both teams up col­lec­tively or pound for pound and the scales are just about even. It must have been a busy six days in both camps. Who has learned more?

For Mayo, the ar­eas in need of patch­work after Sunday’s pul­sat­ing draw were ob­vi­ous. They didn’t crum­ble un­der the force of Kerry’s pres­sure on their kick-out but they fal­tered at crit­i­cal times and need to find more ob­vi­ous out­lets for David Clarke. At the other end, they need to stop bang­ing cheap wides.

Lim­it­ing Kieran Don­aghy re­mains the big – if not the only – issue. It is al­most im­pos­si­ble to en­tirely marginalise the Stacks full for­ward and Mayo failed to do this a week ago. But Don­aghy didn’t cause the sky to col­lapse around Mayo am­bi­tions in the way he has done in pre­vi­ous sum­mers.

The Ai­dan O’Shea-as-po­lice­man tac­tic, for all the crit­i­cism, did man­age to stave off a cat­a­clysmic out­come: a high ball, an early goal, the Kerry for­ward line purring and ev­ery­thing go­ing south.

If man­ager Stephen Rochford leaves O’Shea to mark Don­aghy again, then the ob­vi­ous temp­ta­tion for Kerry will be to have Don­aghy again leave the square and try and make mis­chief else­where. But even though Don­aghy’s cre­ative in­stincts were alive and well around the bor­ders of the at­tack a week ago, it is dif­fi­cult to gauge what Kerry’s at­tack lost through his po­si­tional dis­place­ment.

James O’Donoghue had a frus­trat­ing af­ter­noon and although Paul Geaney hit 0-3 from play, he was rel­a­tively well-con­tained. The fun will start if Kerry start bomb­ing high ball at Don­aghy re­gard­less of whether O’Shea is there or not.

Bad habit

If Mayo had man­aged to cur­tail their bad habit of gift­ing Kerry with un­tidy frees from scor­ing po­si­tions, then the King­dom at­tack would have strug­gled to keep the board tick­ing over.

With Michael Geaney an ab­sen­tee through in­jury, the match fitness of Don­n­cha Walsh – named last night in the start­ing team – be­comes a more press­ing issue for Kerry. Put sim­ply, the King­dom have no­body else to re­place what he does: con­stant mo­tion, ter­rific at mov­ing the ball on; al­ways open as op­tion and bril­liantly fly at ghost­ing through de­fences to land an oc­ca­sional big score or two.

There are other de­ci­sions, too, for the Kerry man­age­ment. Dare they go out again without giv­ing some sort of pro­tec­tion to their full-back line? If so, then the press­ing high de­fence which Éa­monn Fitz­mau­rice’s teams ex­cel at needs to play with more in­tent. It would be a surprise if that unit per­mits Mayo’s rear­guard to thread through the supply of sym­pa­thetic foot-passes which helped to ig­nite the per­for­mances of their full-for­ward ball win­ners.

Ja­son Do­herty prob­a­bly had his best hour in a Mayo shirt, some­thing that was over­looked by Andy Mo­ran’s splen­dour. Cil­lian O’Con­nor chipped in for 0-3 from play that went un­no­ticed but each of his points were huge. It’s un­likely Kerry will be strung by 1-5 from Mo­ran this af­ter­noon but it’s vi­tal for Mayo that Do­herty is just as prom­i­nent.

They may also have to ask Ai­dan O’Shea to run the field and add his heft and skill to the at­tack. They need to try and curb the in­flu­ence of David Mo­ran and they have to elim­i­nate the kind of turnovers which cost them both goals the last day.

Their half-for­ward line, for all its track­ing back and ap­proach work, needs to at least present a more tan­gi­ble scor­ing threat. It was sig­nif­i­cant that Lee Kee­gan didn’t try and run at Paul Murphy even after the Kerry de­fender picked up an early yellow card.

Mayo looked for­mi­da­ble and com­fort­able every time they ran at Kerry. There are, at heart, a team crowded with bril­liantly ver­sa­tile de­fend­ers and there’s an ar­gu­ment to be made for adding Paddy Dur­can to the mix for one of the start­ing for­wards. Fitz­mau­rice is bril­liantly prag­matic and will do some­thing to stop that qual­ity to supply to the in­side-for­ward line and will turn up the heat on Mayo’s kick out even fur­ther.

Mid­field plat­form

Mid­field is their plat­form and with Mo­ran in such im­pe­ri­ous form, Kerry will look to deepen their hold here. Fitz­mau­rice will also have noted how dif­fi­cult Mayo found it to score in the clos­ing 10 min­utes once Kerry swamped their de­fence. The ar­gu­ment that Kerry have the greater scope for im­prove­ment is true. But it doesn’t au­to­mat­i­cally stand that Mayo will per­mit them to im­prove. It is equally true that Kerry have the more silken full-for­ward line but that won’t au­to­mat­i­cally trans­late from the stop-start show a week ago to the eye-catch­ing ma­chine which de­con­structed Cork.

Mayo twice suf­fered huge mo­men­tum-shifts when they gave away those goals last Sunday. And yet they re­cov­ered. There is a chance that Mayo are an even bet­ter team than they know. Life doesn’t al­ways have to be hard. Can they dis­cover that? Avoid those gifts of goals, at­tack with more fe­roc­ity and don’t look back and they can man­age their first cham­pi­onship win over Kerry in two decades.

Ver­dict: Mayo.

‘‘ Mid­field is Kerry’s plat­form and with David Mo­ran in such form, they will look to deepen their hold here

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