The talk of the weekend was undoubtedly the replayed Cork v Kerry Munster championship match on Saturday evening. I thoroughly enjoyed the match as it had some brilliant passages of play. There was outstanding fielding, score taking, and some of the tackling from players on both sides was technically superb. Cork were fantastic. They are a fit, strong, and powerful side, with quality players in practically every position. They must be the number one choice of many to win this year’s All Ireland such was the quality of their performance. It had been suggested that the momentum may have swung in favour of Kerry after their strong finish the previous weekend, but Cork proved yet again that they could soak up anything Kerry threw at them. They seem really focused and ready this year. The key difference from my observation was their freshness and greater hunger. It is not often we hear that the general mood in the Kingdom is rather sombre as early as mid-June, but there is a feeling out there that there is a somewhat laboured look and feel about Kerry this year. And you can understand why. They have visited the well so many times in recent years, having played in every final since 2004 and let’s be honest, they have taken a fair old battering along the way, particularly from some of the strong northern teams.
All of this has undoubtedly taken its toll. On the other hand there are many of you who would never dismiss a Kerry team, particularly a wounded one. Kerry would, I am sure, relish an opportunity to have another crack at their great rivals again. But if that were to be the case, they definitely do need a few handy games, and preferably a home draw in the qualifiers, to kick start their rehabilitation. Many will also suggest that the return of Kieran Donaghy will help revive their fortunes, but if they were unlucky enough to be on the wrong side of a tough draw to a team like Armagh, then I genuinely feel that a man mountain like Donaghy would not be enough to see them over the line. Jack O’Connor was hailed as the man who would revive their fortunes after his appointment last autumn. He proved his ability with a number of very astute team selections a number of years ago but has tougher decision-making ahead of him now.
Time for some surgery
He needs to carry out major surgery throughout the team if they are going to have an opportunity of winning the All Ireland later this summer. Jack has a number of brilliant young footballers sitting on his bench, and now more than ever is the time to throw caution to the wind and introduce five or six of them for the qualifiers. Last year one of the finest performances from a full back came from a young Kerry man, Daniel Bohane in the quarter final v Galway in Croke Park. He was outstanding that Saturday evening, but for some reason we haven’t seen much of him since. David Moran is another quality player that should warrant a start at this stage. The Gooch has hit one of those patches of bad form that he will come through, but one feels he needs the comforting presence of Donaghy beside him. This duo was simply awesome under O’Connor’s tutelage and I suspect he will be anxious to renew their acquaintance as soon as possible. I cringed a few weeks ago when I saw the Down management had started their star forward, Benny Coulter, in a championship game when he was clearly suffering from injury. Tommy Walsh was started last weekend when he wasn’t 100 per cent fit. He shouldn’t have started and Jack may have prolonged his absence because of that decision. If there is one consolation for O’Connor, it is the fact that he has learned early in the campaign that it is time to give youth its fling. He has a serious decision too to make regarding the future of one Paul Galvin. No one will deny he brings an enormous edge to Kerry in the physical stakes, but quite incredibly he allowed himself to be dragged into another altercation that saw him red carded. Will he ever learn? I am looking forward to the Kerry mark two in a few weeks time. Write them off at your peril!
An age old rivalry
Speaking of freshness and youth, I am wondering will Mayo’s starting 15 possess enough of these vital ingredients when they line out against a Roscommon team that comes to Castlebar with nothing to lose and everything to play for. Eleven of the 14 outfield players starting tomorrow evening played championship football in 2005. Senior management has continuously highlighted the fact that they were rebuilding a new team and that it would take time. I can understand that, but at the same time I thought that a greater number of Mayo’s recent underage players would have graduated to senior football in 2009. There are rumours surrounding an injury crisis of sorts, with quite a few of the Mayo players reportedly carrying knocks of one kind or another. Of these, David Clarke is the most serious and his absence is quite significant. I didn’t see Roscommon’s victory over Leitrim but did watch the highlights of the game later that night. Carrick on Shannon is a difficult venue at which to win championship matches, and in fairness to Roscommon they came away from that encounter with reputations enhanced. Their morale boosting victory will have them all fired up for the Mayo game and, knowing most of them as I do, I can guarantee they won’t roll over and accept defeat easily. Their league performances weren’t great but the one thing they have over their opponents coming into this game is the fact that there is no pressure on them whatsoever.
They have, I believe, prepared well for this match, with David Casey lining out at full back in recent training sessions being bombarded with high balls in preparation for a similar onslaught tomorrow. They have a number of good footballers throughout the team, but the one in particular that just might cause problems for Mayo is in fact the son of a former Mayo footballer. Senan Kilbride, whose father lined out for both Mayo and Roscommon, lines out in the full forward line and has bundles of ability. He is a right handful when in possession and Ger Cafferkey will need protection when Senan is on the ball. He has a sweet left peg and can score if given half a chance. Conor Devanney is another who is quick and elusive and could do damage if he was fed the right type of ball. However I expect Keith Higgins to pick him up and he will want to be really sharp to trouble Keith. I fully expect that Roscommon will put it up to Mayo, possibly for 40 minutes, but still would be very surprised if Mayo didn’t win by five or six points.