The Kingdom come calling tomorrow night

Front foot Flynn: Jordan Flynn of Mayo is tackled by Jemar Hall of Armagh during Mayo's draw with Armagh. Photo: Sportsfile.

Front foot Flynn: Jordan Flynn of Mayo is tackled by Jemar Hall of Armagh during Mayo's draw with Armagh. Photo: Sportsfile.

Another bumper crowd is expected under the lights of Hastings Insurance MacHale Park when the defending All Ireland and National Football League champions come calling to Castlebar.

Kevin McStay will be looking for his side to pick up their first win of this year's National Football League after draws against Galway on the opening night and then six days later in the Athletic Grounds against Armagh - but there is no sterner test in this year's league action than the one they will face when Kerry arrive to town.

As things stand at the moment, both sides are level on two points each in the league table, with Kerry losing their opening day outing in Donegal thanks to a dramatic late Paddy McBrearty winner; but bouncing back in impressive style the following week dispatching Monaghan at their ease.

Mayo supporters will be hoping to see the return of some key men to the frame with both Tommy Conroy and Paddy Durcan believed to be close to a return to action after their lay-offs. But there is not expected to be much change to the starting side that Kevin McStay put out into action in the previous game, with possibly Diarmuid O'Connor returning to the fold after missing out on that one.

Cillian O'Connor's displays off the bench in both of Mayo's opening games show that he is returning to form and he could be in with a shout of getting a starting spot, if McStay and his management team want to use his experience from the off, against what will be a serious examination of Mayo's early season credentials.

At the back, the full back line of David McBrien, Rory Brickenden and Jack Coyne may not have the experience of teams of old in games like this, but they will welcome the opportunity to continue to learn in a challenging encounter.

Stephen Coen's experience and leadership will be key in front of them with Enda Hession or potentially Eoghan McLaughlin also forming a key part of the defence, while the experiment of playing Conor Loftus at centre-half back will get a serious examination if McStay decides to commit to it again this weekend.

In the middle of the park - if O'Connor the younger is fit to play - he will bring an experienced spike to that Mayo line, alongside Matthew Ruane and Jordan Flynn, who continues to grow into a very important cog in the Mayo machine.

Ryan O'Donoghue will lead the line and after his strong showing in the Armagh game in the inside forward line, Aidan O'Shea will be looking to put in another big showing in there. If Diarmuid O'Connor is fit and ready to go, it could negate the need for Mayo to get O'Shea to come out the field during games and leave him posted inside where, if they get the right ball into him, he has shown he can do damage.

Fionn McDonagh, Bob Tuohy and Jack Carney will be hoping to keep their places after the Armagh game - while all three are far from veterans, both McDonagh and Carney have experience of playing in tough league games for Mayo, while the young Mitchels man looks to be a man for the future and could be held in reserve for later in the game - but there is no better learning curve for Tuohy to be on than to have to front up from the get-go against a side like Kerry.

Kerry themselves have been short of plenty of household names from their winning run last year, with David Clifford the most notable of all absentees, with the Fossa man not featuring for the Kingdom this year after leading his club side to All Ireland junior glory a few weeks ago. His brother Paudie did make an appearance off the bench against Monaghan last time out - so many are expecting David to see some game time starting this weekend.

Other absentees in the first two league games that Jack O'Connor has had to do without include Gavin White, Shane Ryan, Stephen O'Brien, Paul Geaney and Diarmuid O'Connor - while the calming influence of David Moran has also been missed after the Kerins O'Rahilly's man retired from the inter-county game after last year's All Ireland win.

The counties met three times last year in both league and championship with Kerry winning all three of them, picking up a narrow win in Tralee in the round robin stages of the league, before they dismantled Mayo in the league final in Croke Park and when the sides met in the All Ireland quarter-final, the Kingdom once again came out on top impressively.

While both sides are yet to get up to championship pace, they will be targeting moving things in that direction from now on and as history showed last year, when Dublin were relegated from the top flight - there is little room for error in the bear pit that is division one, even if all eyes are firmly focused on the championship as being the big deal in the coming months.

A win for Mayo would set them up nicely for the rest of the league - but with Tyrone coming to town next weekend, followed by a trip to the Hyde to face a rejuvenated and refocused Roscommon, a defeat here and they will be facing into a couple of must-win games against two very hungry sides in the weeks that follow.

 

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