Mayo need to stand and deliver

GAA: All Ireland SFC Quarter Final

Back to black and blue: Conor Loftus looks to escape the clutches of Tadhg Morley in the league final meeting between Mayo and Kerry earlier this season. Photo: Sportsfile.

Back to black and blue: Conor Loftus looks to escape the clutches of Tadhg Morley in the league final meeting between Mayo and Kerry earlier this season. Photo: Sportsfile.

The real stuff starts now. Losing to Galway wasn't ideal - but it has taken Mayo as many games through the back door to get to the same stage as the newly minted Connacht champions.

The last two games have left many of the lingering questions over this Mayo team still hanging, but they have got the job done against both Monaghan and Kildare.

In normal circumstances, Mayo seeing off two sides who were in division one of the league this year and going into face a Kerry team who beat division two Cork (the Rebels have made the last eight, but that was as much down to the luck of the draw as anything else ) and Limerick who were plying their trade in division three this year, would have Mayo in good standing ahead of such a challenge. Throw in the fact that Kerry have been stationary in terms of competitive games since their Munster final win a month ago. But this isn't normal circumstances.

Mayo have plenty of questions about themselves to answer, so do Kerry - but the common consensus is that Kerry will be able to answer them when push comes to shove and Mayo will fail to answer the same questions that have seen them fall at the final fence so many times in recent years.

The two league meetings between these sides could not have been any more poles apart. A tough, tense battle in Tralee in the groups stages on a Saturday night when Kerry deservedly just about edged it - was followed by a league final meeting - that will be one that Mayo supporters will want to lock away deep in the recesses of their brains alongside the likes of Cork in 1993 and Longford in 2010. Kerry ran amuck and toyed with Mayo on their way to the league title - winning by 15 points and showing no mercy on the way.

Now there were mitigating circumstances at play that day too. Kerry were a good number weeks out from their championship opener against Cork, while Mayo were staring down the barrel of a rejuvenated Galway coming to Castlebar looking to throttle them and send them packing from Connacht.

Kerry were also under new management, and had attacked the league on a war footing, knowing that they were not really going to face a serious examination until this round of the championship. While for Mayo, some deep thinkers on the game believe that Mayo didn't want to be in the league final and it was an unhappy accident the way things developed over the closing rounds of the league that saw them end up in Croke Park a couple of weeks out from Galway; and that they didn't go full throttle, appearing to save the good stuff for later in summer. Well that later is now here.

Mayo were also short a number of key players that day, no Rob Hennelly, Oisin Mullin, Diarmuid O'Connor or Paddy Durcan. It was also used as a gallop for Cillian O'Connor to get some time in his legs late on before the Galway game and Jordan Flynn had to go off injured and was only seen since in the second half against Kildare.

Mayo have welcomed all those walking wounded back since then and while everything hasn't just fallen into place for them and Ryan O'Donghue's fitness and availability is something that has been the main focus of conversations outside of the action on the field in the past two games, Mayo will need the Belmullet game breaker if they are to win on Sunday, seems to be the common consensus.

How Mayo set up and who makes up the starting 15 is something that everyone is waiting to see. Almost anyone out of the 26 names that James Horan has submitted to Croke Park could be involved come Sunday afternoon - depending on how Mayo take this game on.

The big question is, do they do something different from their norm, will they drop back a sweeper to try and shut down the ball getting into the much vaunted Kerry attack of messers Clifford, O'Se, Geaney and Clifford the elder - if so, who?

Do you place Aidan O'Shea back there or Stephen Coen or Kevin McLoughlin to add some extra attacking threat? And who makes way in the attacking line to allow an extra defender to play? If they do that, how will it affect the team elsewhere?

If Ryan O'Donoghue is fit enough to be in the 26, do you start him, rather than hoping you're still in the game and hold him in reserve for the final 20 minutes? Does Jordan Flynn have the full 70 minutes in him to partner Mattie Ruane in the middle of the park? Do you throw Aidan O'Shea in at full forward and see can Mayo get good ball into him and give the Kerry defence something else to think about? One thing for sure, is Mayo need to get far more return from their attack on the scoreboard.

If Mayo get things right - they have the ability and the muscle memory of winning big games to get over the line, but it also has the potential to be a very long afternoon at the office if the Kerry attack catch fire and Mayo are under the pump early on. As with Mayo it's never easy to call it - but it's going to be exciting seeing can they work it out.


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