And so, they dance again. Three years after the last time. Three years after the great showdown/hoedown in Limerick, with goals, dramatic equalizers and a particularly large and irate fan coming onto the field to politely inquire, “What the ref was at” and ending up being dragged off the pitch by 5 stewards and his daughter. They dance again and if it’s only half as thrilling as we got before well then…
Of course, things have changed since then: Brexit, Trump, all that jazzeroo. But it’s funny how, however the world spins, the landscape of the football championship hasn’t changed that much. Kerry are still Kerry “Ara sure Jaysus, we haven’t really a hope on Sunday, but sure we’ll go up for the trip anyway and see what’ll happen” Mayo, are still Mayo. If they haven’t found a way to make themselves more downtrodden and pitied yet, you can be sure they will find one between now and the third Sunday in September.
That epic in the Gaelic Grounds 3 years ago has gone down in folklore as one of the greatest games of all time. And for sure it was. But then for one of these teams (the green and red one) such drama hasn’t really been that out of the ordinary. Already during this championship, they’ve been beaten once by a point, been taken to extra time twice, and had to face a replay, in what must be one of the most unwieldy trips to an All-Ireland semi-final since Meath in 1991. As such then, it must have been a blessed relief for their sides supporters to have had a relatively panic free quarter-final replay on the bank holiday Monday a couple of weeks ago. Sure, it’s great for the neutral to be taken through a white knuckle ride every now and then, but when it’s an almost weekly occurrence for your own side, how much can a supporter actually take?
For the Kingdom meanwhile, it’s somewhat different. For the last few years it’s just been a case of smooth sailing up to Croke Park every August before those dastardly Dubs throw them off course. Now having beaten them in the League final of May, they’re frothing at the mouth to get an opportunity to do so again next month. It’s just these pesky little guys from out West that have to be negotiated first.
The argument that’s always given against Kerry whenever they reach this point of the season is that they haven’t been “tested” so far. Which is fine to posit as a theory, but it ignores the fact that during their run to get here, Kerry have already easily beaten Galway (who Mayo lost to earlier in the season) and Cork (who Mayo just about scraped through after extra-time). So, if we are to draw an admittedly crude form line through those sides, would you not just come to the conclusion that Kerry must be better than Mayo?
Obviously, it’s not as simple as that. Mayo didn’t exactly pull up any trees in advancing to the All-Ireland final last year, but then could have, nay should have, beaten Dublin when they got there. Their best performance of the season was their last one. Their best performances of the season usually come around this time. And, they’ve already beaten Kerry once this year in the National league in Killarney. So, maybe, just maybe, Sunday might be their day.
Any analysis of what’s going to happen in the actual game cannot last more than 2 sentences without the inevitable “But what are Mayo going to do with Donaghy?” line being thrown in. You’d wonder if just stopping Kieran Donaghy would be seen as a victory for Mayo itself. Now the Tralee native is a massive danger and you might be wise to put Barry Moran or Lee Keegan or anyone else back on him, but if Ger Cafferky isn’t fired up and raring to go after the way he’s been dismissed in the media, you’d wonder if he’s a Mayo football man at all.
The hunch is that Mayo will be so preoccupied with what Donaghy is going to do that it might be the wingmen who actually take the glory this time. So, whatever about the big man, expect sterling performances from the likes of Paul Murphy, Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue, who Joe Brolly has taken the time to slate this week, in keeping with the recent trend of ripping the reputation of classic Kingdom corner-forwards.
It’s too easy to break this game down into a “Donaghy v Mayo” scenario. There’s another host of players who can have an impact on it, and I can’t but help think that the Kerry ones look stronger than Mayo. How many more times can the likes of Andy Moran go to the well? If you are looking at a bench of players to bring on if the result is in the melting pot, would you not prefer to be in Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s shoes, than Stephen Rochford’s?
One factor that hasn’t been mentioned much, and should be, is that Mayo’s record against Kerry is absolutely terrible. Since their last victory in the 1996 semi-final, the westerners have lost 6 times against them, most famously in the finals of 1997, 2004 and 2006, but also in the semi-finals of 2011 and 2014 and quarters of 2005. If given the opportunity, I’m sure the Green and Red would much rather face Tyrone or Dublin, sides who they’ve a comparatively stronger record against, than the Kingdom. Is it unreasonable to assume that the weight of history may be playing on their mind once again come Sunday?
In the end, the notion of Mayo beating Kerry just seems too romantic to be plausible. This team, Aidan O’Shea, Lee Keegan, Keith Higgins et al, has been going non-stop since 2011 or so, and we’re still not sure if they’ve reached their peak, or are already a few years past it. Maybe 3 years ago was the time to do it, maybe next year will be, but in a season when one side is about to gloriously end an All-Ireland hurling famine, it would be a bit much to ask for something similar in football as well wouldn’t it? I think so anyway. But what about Mayo for Sam? Or the glorious anthem, “Sam McGuire is coming home to Mayo”? Hmmm, best give it one more year at least…
VERDICT: Kerry by 3