Kerry to surmount anxieties and power ahead

Mayo can be better than the league final but can they actually beat Jack O’Connor’s men?

All-Ireland SFC quarter-final: Sunday, Kerry v Mayo, Croke Park, 4.0pm, live, RTÉ 2

Both teams arrive at this stage in a state of some trepidation, Kerry because of who they’ve played so far and Mayo because of how they’ve played. The Munster champions won both matches against Cork and Limerick easily and now brace themselves for the perennial contenders, who like clockwork have arrived in the last eight with plenty of room for improvement.

That winning muscle memory is phenomenal. Kildare got six up at the beginning of the second half before embarking on a festival of missed opportunities. Mayo scented the vulnerability and duly ended their championship.

The problem is that performance levels up to that point had been wretched. Do that again and they’ll be clearing children out of the stadium before half-time.

As a guide the league final between the teams probably won’t apply. Mayo are stronger with the return of Rob Hennelly, Oisín Mullin (around whom injury rumours again flutter) and Paddy Durcan. The unfortunate Pádraig O’Hora, condemned to an entire afternoon in David Clifford’s company isn’t named to start.

Clifford is listed at full forward by Kerry, as stated by manager Jack O’Connor earlier this week, and word is that he is fit to go after missing the Munster final. Mayo didn’t have similar fortune in getting their key forward back and Ryan O’Donoghue remains on the side-lines with injury.

Kerry have won the two previous meetings and should be winning this but there is a fear of what one friend described as ‘the Mayo performance,’ the type of unexpected display that the county puts up nearly every year. Kerry should know. They were on the receiving end in 2017.

Lee Keegan, Mullin and Durcan are capable of leading that and other defenders of weighing in but whereas those interventions have won the recent matches against – albeit Division One teams – Kildare and Monaghan, it’s hard to see it being enough to counter-balance Kerry’s stronger line-up across the field.

The pace and hard work of the backs, like Gavin White and Tom O’Sullivan along with Tadhg Morley’s intelligent sweeping look capable enough of restricting Mayo and matching their counter-attacks whereas David Moran’s return guarantees a presence at centrefield for however long he lasts.

It is of course up front that the danger lies and not just Clifford but also Paul Geaney who scored well in the league final. Mayo can make it difficult but how can they win?

Verdict: Kerry

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times