A national title is nothing to be sniffed at

GAA: Comment

Sunday showdown: Donal Vaughan will be hoping for a similar result as when Mayo last met Gavin O'Brien and Kerry earlier this month in Tralee. Photo: Sportsfile.

Sunday showdown: Donal Vaughan will be hoping for a similar result as when Mayo last met Gavin O'Brien and Kerry earlier this month in Tralee. Photo: Sportsfile.

Mayo's strong offensive showing where Kevin McLoughlin and Fergal Boland excelled in the final round of the league against Monaghan, was enough to secure a final showdown with Kerry after Mickey Harte's Tyrone did us a huge favour in Omagh, turning a seven point deficit against Galway into a seven point win.

I found myself in Hyde Park last Sunday to see if Roscommon could miraculously beat Kerry, while also needing Mayo to do them a favour to see if they could stay in division one. We kept our end of the bargain, but Roscommon looked like they had accepted their fate with 20 minutes to go and fell to a 10 point loss to Kerry and were relegated as a result.

I had to rely on updates to follow Mayo's fortunes in what turned out to be an epic final day of league football, where 21 of the 24 teams in the top three divisions had something to play for on the final day. Dublin, Armagh and Sligo were the only three with nothing at stake. It was interesting to hear the opinions of some supporters in the lead-up to the game against Monaghan, with many feeling it would be better to lose and not bother going to a league final, as it may scupper our chances of landing the elusive Sam Maguire.

League success didn't exactly hinder Dublin's pursuit of the Holy Grail down the years. I personally couldn't get my head around that way of thinking. When there is a prestigious title on the line and you are in a position to win it, you go for it. Mayo haven't exactly been filling the trophy cabinet in the last number of years. However, if it was Dublin waiting for us in the final on Sunday or even a chance it could have been Dublin, then that would be a different scenario. Losing to Monaghan may have been a better option, but with Kerry as our opponents, we have every chance to win this year's division one of the league. That's something we haven't done since Pat Holmes was manager, way back in 2001.

James Horan did take us to a final in 2012, where we lost to Cork, after defeating Kerry in extra time in the semi final that year. James Horan's tinkering with his team has certainly kept us on our toes throughout this year's league campaign, I can only imagine what it has done to the players. Players who are used to being in the starting line-up are all of a sudden uncertain. Leaving big names out for certain games, as he did last Sunday, will most definitely keep the feet firmly planted on the ground.

Horan's declaration that if it's a 50/50 call between an established/older player and a young up and coming player - then youth will win out in his decision making - that scenario, and his tinkering with the team, makes for a very healthy training environment. Just look at the goal-keeping dilemma, neither David Clarke or Robbie Hennelly have any idea who the manager's first choice number one is at the present time. We are lucky to be spoilt in that position. There are many more not exactly sure where they stand in the pecking order at the present time.

Kerry looked much sharper in Hyde park than they did against Mayo the previous week, but the quality of the opposition has to be called into question. Conor Cox, the former Kerry player now playing for Roscommon, was the only Rossie to take the game to Kerry and he had a right tussle with Peter Crowley, resulting in Crowley being hauled ashore in the second half.

Other than that, Kerry did as they pleased. The returning David Clifford looked like he had never been away and only for a smart save by Colm Lavin in the first minute, and then the crossbar shortly after, Clifford could have had two first half goals. Seanie O'Shea continued his very impressive form, notching 1-05 for his team - apart from his wonderful skill set, his work rate when his team is chasing the ball sets him apart and is fascinating to watch.

It's food for thought for James Horan going into Sunday's game as to who he'll pick to chaperone the aforementioned Kerry players. O'Shea has scored 1-50 for Kerry in this year's league. The 1-45 he scored before the Roscommon game accounted for over half of Kerry's entire national league scores. It's big pressure on young shoulders to carry the hopes of the traditionalists of GAA football, but at 20 years of age, it looks like O'Shea and Clifford can cope.

Despite conceding six second half points in a row against Monaghan and allowing Jack McCarron to do as he pleased last Sunday, you feel Mayo will be more defensively astute this Sunday for the Kerry challenge. After what happened in Tralee, Kerry will want to make amends. After Mayo's horror show in Croker last month against Dublin, Mayo will want to set the record straight in HQ. Something has to give. Kerry are favourites at 8/15 while Mayo are 15/8. The draw is 15/2. A national title will do the confidence no harm for the championship.



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