Kerry put their faith in youth for Mayo clash

Eamonn Fitzmaurice could hardly have named a less experienced team

Given that Irish Rail have decided that all roads lead to Dublin tomorrow, it's as well that there's enough fuel in the plots and plans of Mayo and Kerry to transport us.

The two counties meet for the 23rd time in championship and rarely has there looked as little to choose between them. The oddsmakers have it down as a one-point game.

Whatever about the plots, the subplots are endless. Like that one, right off the bat. Can there be a more disdainful swat of a glove across the face of Mayo football than to be mere one-point favourites here?

Six teams

Mayo, aiming to make it into their third All-Ireland final in a row and so become only the seventh county ever to do so. Mayo, fresh off a Connacht four-in-a-row – a feat only matched by six teams in the province’s history. Mayo have beaten Dublin, Donegal, Cork (twice), Tyrone and Down as well as all-comers from the west under

James Horan

.

Can it be anything other than historical bias that has this Kerry coming to Croke Park regarded as more or less equals alongside this Mayo?

This Kerry with player turnover so vast that only four remain from the side that beat Mayo when they last met just three years ago?

This Kerry with only Marc Ó Sé left of the true gods of the era, albeit a scatter more on the bench? This Kerry with their hopes pinned on a quicksilver inside forward who, for all his abundant gifts, still hadn’t won a game he’d started in Croke Park before the quarter-final?

Above all, this Goochless Kerry? It seems a curious sort of wishful thinking all summer that has allowed us to imagine Kerry can still be contenders while the player of all our lifetimes rehabs on the side of the training pitch. Disrespectful, almost

Or that we can take him and Tomás Ó Sé, Paul Galvin and Eoin Brosnan and now the two O'Sullivans and Bryan Sheehan and Kieran Donaghy out and still be left with the makings of an All-Ireland team. If that turns out to be the case, then the bleaters who seek conspiracy in Dublin's natural advantage are surely looking in the wrong place.

Short of grabbing a handful out of Jack O'Connor's hotshot minor team that will play in the curtain raiser, Eamonn Fitzmaurice could hardly have named a less experienced team.

In hindsight, it was clearly something he had in mind once it became obvious Galway were as good as put away in the quarter-final.

Look at the names he called ashore in that game – Sheehan (injured, granted), Ó Sé, Aidan O'Mahony, Declan O'Sullivan, Donnchadh Walsh.

Of the players who finished that game for Kerry, only Darran O'Sullivan (23) and Killian Young (17) had more than single figures against their name for championship matches played in Croke Park. And neither of them starts tomorrow. On the basis that you only learn by doing, it was another smart move from the Kerry manager.

Flame lit

The apparent aim tomorrow is for Kerry to keep the semi-finals as semi-finals are often kept – tight, gnarly, just a little claustrophobic.

If that doesn’t sound particularly Kerryish, well, we can expect them to attempt it with a certain amount of élan. Whatever they need to do to keep the flame lit until the final quarter.

On the face of it, they have the better-armed cavalry. They must keep it up for decision.

With Mayo, of course, there’s often that prospect. Their awful knack for giving away goals at the exact wrong time kept Cork in a quarter-final they should have been long gone out of, just as it offered Dublin a quick route back into last year’s All-Ireland final after Horan’s side had made much the better start.

They must keep Rob Hennelly's goal intact. How they go about closing that particular avenue off to O'Donoghue will be key. If they choose to just send Keith Higgins over to him and let the best man win, we might just watch that for the day and maybe catch the result of the game itself on the news.

There's plenty of talk that Mayo's named team won't be the one that starts. Of Alan Freeman and Jason Gibbons maybe getting the nod ahead of Chrissy Barrett and Andy Moran. Of Peter Crowley velcroing himself to Aidan O'Shea, of Donnchadh Walsh making Lee Keegan defend like he made Jack McCaffrey defend on the same stage last year. Of ifs and ands and plots and plans.

Can’t wait.