John Maughan more wary of present than history with Kerry

Former Mayo manager believes county has no reason to be anxious about the past

Strangely, given the overall history of the fixture, Mayo have become Kerry's most familiar opponents in the past 20 years. Sunday's All-Ireland semi-final will be the seventh championship meeting of the counties since 1996. Prior to that year's semi-final you'd have to go back a further 64 years to cover the previous seven championships in which they had met.

Since 1996, the county has sustained five straight defeats at the hands of Kerry, spread over three All-Ireland finals, a semi-final and quarter-final.

John Maughan managed the county in all of those matches except the two most recent, and he argues that the discouraging record is more a product of coincidence than some immutable relationship.

“On most of the occasions we’ve played them they’ve just been better and at times luckier – the ball that hit off Darragh Ó Sé’s chest and then his knee for his only championship goal and we lost by three points in 2005.


‘Poor record’

“But it’s a very poor record in the championship, one win in over 60 years. We’ve beaten them quite a bit in the league but that doesn’t count for anything in championship. Of course there’s no team better than Kerry at hitting the sweet spot when it matters most and they’ve done it extremely well over the decades.”

The semi-final win in 1996 was something of a coup, as Mayo in Maughan's first year were coming from Division Three of the league and although Kerry, in what was also Páidí Ó Sé's first year of management, had won Munster for the first time in five years, their young team, based on the All-Ireland under-21 winning teams of the time were favourites.

“If you listen to Jack O’Connor, who was a selector with Páidí in those years, Kerry celebrated too much after winning Munster,” recalls Maughan of the emphatic six-point win. “That mightn’t be my conclusion because we played remarkably well and got most of our match-ups right.”

Strong record

For any county, playing Kerry can be daunting. The county has such a strong record against nearly everyone else but Maughan was confident going into the match. His first managerial appointment had been in Clare, who he led to an historic Munster championship in 1992, the county’s first in 75 years.

So he wasn’t intimidated by Kerry and believes that history won’t be an issue on Sunday.

“Not really because I had been involved with Clare in ’92 when they beat Kerry in the Munster final. They didn’t frighten me. No team, irrespective of history or lineage or reputation would frighten me if I had a good team.”

What does concern him is the lack of new faces on the Mayo teams in this championship. The great majority of James Horan’s team has been around for the four years of his tenure: “I suppose from the management’s point of view a number of the newer players who have played in league and championship have come up a bit short with one or two exceptions,” according to Maughan.

"Jason Gibbons might feel himself a little bit unlucky, as he had a fantastic league campaign but he also picked up an injury.

"Up front is where Mayo have been searching the last year, hoping to find somebody. I'd like to see Alan Freeman getting in because I think we'll need fresh legs against Kerry and maybe leave one of the older players on the bench.

"Andy Moran came on in the Connacht championship when we were in danger of losing to Roscommon and he turned the game around with two glorious points and he brought a new energy into the forward line when it was needed most. He mightn't like to be told that but it could be a more suitable role for him now."

Whatever the line-out announced for the semi-final, the former manager is a little bit jumpy about what he sees as complacency in the county.

“I’m concerned about Sunday, a little bit worried. We’ve no reason to be over-confident and there are people talking about a Dublin-Mayo final. Crazy talk. We’ve no right to see ourselves in that position.”

That’s certainly the lesson of history.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times