No time for cockiness against the most decorated team in the country

I am not sure what the odds were back in 1951 or if odds on football matches even existed back then but I would be pretty sure when Mayo faced Kerry in '81, '96’, '97, '04, '06, and 2011, Kerry would have been the overwhelming favourites.

Fast forward to the All-Ireland semi- final in 2014 and Mayo are fancied to beat the Kingdom, but just.

Is it that Mayo have got so good or do the bookmakers see Kerry as a somewhat spent force?

It would be interesting to see what the odds would have been if Colm Cooper was fit to play. Kerry have won three All-Irelands at our expense in the last 17 years so they obviously like playing against the green and red.  

Little did I know when we played them in the semi-final in '96 that no Mayo team had beaten a Leinster or Munster team in the championship since 1951 and I am glad nobody told us that stat before the game.

If I had thought about it for a second, I would have realised that as the only semi-final Mayo won during that period was the '89 semi final against Tyrone. (Another important piece of information is that there was no back door back then and Mayo did not have many games against Munster or Leinster teams. )

There has been a lot of dangerous talk around the county in the build-up to this game  and I shriek when I get asked if I think we will beat Dublin in the final. 'Surely they’ll beat Kerry, Kerry are useless,' one customer in our shop told me.

If the management and players had that attitude we would be in for one massive humiliation. Where did we get the divine right to be cocky against the most decorated team in the country?  

Damning

After all, Kerry are Kerry and we have only beaten them twice in the last 63 years, a damning statistic.

There are lots of talking points prior to this game but one crucial one that may sway this in Mayo’s favour is the fitness of Bryan Sheehan.

Sheehan is the best free taker in the country by a proverbial mile, and when he went off injured against Galway, it had two negative knock on effects on Kerry. Firstly, Kerry missed a few crucial frees that Sheehan would have nailed. Secondly, his replacement kicker, Johnny Buckley, missed a lot of those frees, which in turn shattered his confidence and resulted in him getting the curly finger from manager Eamon Fitzmaurice (his replacement Barry John Keane scored 0-3 ).

Buckley had a brilliant Munster final, scoring four points from open play and was second only to James O Donohue for man of the match. Which leads to my next point, who will mark the extremely talented Kerry forward? Or how will Mayo try to negate the influence of O Donohue?

He scored a whopping 0-10 out of 24 points in the Munster final and again another 1-05 (should have been 2-05 ) out of 1-20 against Galway in the quarter final. He is an obvious threat and if a player of the year was picked today, he would definitely be on the short list. I don’t care how ugly it gets but I would leave two men hanging out of him because, if you keep his scoring to in or around two points from play, you will probably win the game, as long as due attention is given to the rest of the Kerry forward line.

Kerry will feel they have better forwards than Mayo so it is very important the O’Sheas, Donal Vaughan, Jason Gibbons, Barry Moran, Tom Parsons, or whoever, gets a stranglehold of the midfield.

If Declan O’Sullivan goes roving, as I expect he will, Mayo will have to leave a man back in the space or O Donohue and Paul Geaney will tear them apart as Brian Hurley and Colm O’Neill did for Cork in the quarter final.

Chris Barrett and Ger Cafferkey were left isolated for long periods against Cork. Declan O’Sullivan had a very quiet game against Galway, which worries me a little as he may feel he has a big point to prove on Sunday.

Bandages

His two heavily bandaged knees mean he is not as mobile as he once was but he is still a brilliant player (apparently he bandages both knees so his opponents don’t know which one is injured ).

This game is very tight to call, as usual. I am very confident right now, by 3.30pm on Sunday, I hope I am the same way.

I could not believe my luck when I was informed the Mayo minors were playing the Charlestown senior team in a challenge game last week, as it was my first chance to get up close and personal with them.

At times I wondered which was the senior team, the minors are physically very strong, their two half forwards of Gary Boylan and Sharoize Akram have pace to die and regularly left their senior markers in their slipstream and, in Cian Hanley, they have a real star of the future, if he stays in Ireland.

Kerry are hot favourites for this game and in Jack O’Connor they have a manager who would not be in charge unless he saw something special, but I think Mayo will turn them over. Here’s hoping for another Mayo double.

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