Mayo have incentive to get over Cork
Experienced Kerry players unlikely to be stopped by Galway
There is no easy or deliberate way of peaking for an All-Ireland football final, and for Mayo that’s what this summer is all about. All year I’ve got the sense they’ve been building towards that goal again, to get back into Croke Park in September, with the ultimate aim of landing that elusive prize.
So far so good, and I think we will see a further step towards that goal in Croke Park tomorrow. I actually think they took a bit of a chance in Connacht this year, just about did enough to get through, realising that the real challenge is from here on, starting with Cork.
Still I detect some of their old failings, particularly their over-reliance of their attacking half backs, although Lee Keegan has been outstanding in that regard. Likewise, the over-reliance of scores from Cillian O’Connor, from both frees and play. So they will need to start spreading that responsibility, be a little more clinical with their super-slick attacking movements.
I also think Mayo are more athletic this year, and certainly Aidan O’Shea looks more suited at centre forward, and possibly even full forward, as an out-and-out target man. Sometimes Mayo do struggle to win possession in that line, with a lot of similar players, in terms of size, in the likes of Andy Moran, Jason Doherty, and even O’Connor. They’re not the most physical players, and having O’Shea in there would certainly add some size and weight.
Hurdle to climb
They’re also one of the most experienced teams left in the championship, considering what they’ve been through for the last three or four years. Mentally, they still have a bit of hurdle to climb, and that’s really where James Horan comes in, to convince them they still have what it takes, and to keep that hunger alive.
Another slight concern I’d have is that they’re still effectively the same team as last year, when they could have done with two or three more changes, particularly in the forward line. They certainly don’t seem to have the depth of say Dublin, in terms of impact subs, and I would wonder as well if the likes of Andy Moran and Andy Dillon would be more influential coming off the bench.
Cork will certainly present a good test of all of this, and will stretch them. They’re equally fit, and physical, although Cork would be at a more transitional point. Brian Cuthbert is also more willing to give youth a chance, especially when you consider he has players like Fintan Goold, Daniel Goulding and Donncha O’Connor on the bench.
What Cork will need here is another step up in pace and intensity. They showed a little more of it against Sligo last week, because certainly their work rate was abysmal against Kerry in the Munster final. They’re also out to make some amends for that debacle in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, and defensively they’ll be much less inclined to give away scores.
Still Mayo should want to win this a lot more, have a lot more incentive, and if they can be a little more clinical in their finishing they should win comfortably enough. They’ve a few years on Cork, in terms of strength and conditioning.
The same will probably prove true of Kerry against Galway, because while Galway have lots of exciting young footballers now, they won’t have the power to match Kerry. They actually got a valuable lesson against Tipperary the last day, by conceding four late goals, a timely reminder that they’ll have to protect their back line against Kerry, or face even worse consequences.
James O’Donoghue and Paul Geaney will be very dangerous in any one-on-one situation and, with Declan O’Sullivan orchestrating things, Kerry will rack up scores.
So it’s a big ask for Galway, to figure out a defensive strategy against all this, in one week. They do have some real scoring threats of their own, particularly Shane Walsh and also Danny Cummins and Michael Martin.
Having said that, a lot of people in Kerry were awe struck by the performance against Cork, but were left wondering too just how much of a free rein they were given. Cork asked few if any questions of Kerry, whereas Galway will, especially with their big midfield pairing of Fiontán Ó Curraoin and Thomas Flynn.
But Kerry’s confidence is on a bit of a high again, and with so many strong players on the bench too, including Kieran Donaghy, won’t be caught by Galway.
This evening’s two remaining qualifiers will be competitive, and Meath should beat Armagh, if only to prove to themselves they’re not as bad as they showed against Dublin, but they’ll need to reproduce some of their scoring form up front, and spirit in defence, because they are facing a battle-hardened Armagh.
The same with Monaghan, who were never allowed to settle into their Ulster final against Donegal, and particularly their twin threat of Conor McManus and Ciarán Hughes. Kildare have struggled all season, haven’t really improved at all, and Monaghan have lot more incentive to come through and finally win a game in Croke Park.