Mayo on a mission to topple the Kingdom

GAA: All Ireland SFC Semi-Final

Keegan takes on the Kingdom: What position that Lee Keegan takes up on Sunday, has been a hot-topic of discussion this week. Photo: Sportsfile

Keegan takes on the Kingdom: What position that Lee Keegan takes up on Sunday, has been a hot-topic of discussion this week. Photo: Sportsfile

Not long after Mayo rattled in their third goal in the first half of their All Ireland quarterfinal replay win over Roscommon, the thoughts of plenty of Mayo supporters wandered to what will we do to stop Kieran Donaghy, the man who has inflicted more pain on Mayo in recent years than probably anyone else on big days.

But Mayo manager Stephen Rochford knows that he has much more to contend with than just one man. While Kerry got to see how that particular tactic of Donaghy being the big man on the edge of the square may have worked in the first half against Galway in their quarterfinal win, you have to only look back to the 2014 All Ireland final where Donaghy drifted out early doors and it was Paul Geaney who got isolated on the Donegal full back line and won a high ball close in before sticking it in the back of the net.

The Kerry inside line of Geaney, Donaghy, and former footballer of the year James O'Donoghue are one of the most formidable attacking line-ups in the game, and getting the match-ups right is key to Mayo's chances of success on Sunday. Three years ago Keith Higgins and O'Donoghue had a battle for the ages in both the drawn game and the replay, while it might seem obvious to match the Ballyhaunis man with O'Donoghue again, Higgins's performance in the Roscommon game as a sweeper, who broke from the back and ended up scoring a goal and setting up another, would be lost.

Brendan Harrision will probably be given the task of keeping tabs on Geaney, leaving potentially Chris Barrett to take up the challenge of shackling the Killarney Legion man. Donal Vaughan is the man, in a lot of people's eyes who will be given the role to keep Donaghy under-control with Higgins sweeping in front of him. But there could be a surprise in the mix, two years ago Barry Moran was dropped in as a defensive shield in front of Michael Murphy when Mayo played Donegal in the last eight, but Moran has not been in the mix this year for Mayo, after an injury lay-off, and that will probably see that option not being tried out. Throwing back Tom Parsons or Seamus O'Shea would deprive Mayo of too much in what will be a serious middle third battle against Jack Barry and David Moran.

The make up of the Mayo half-back line is another thing that has dominated a lot of conversations in the past fortnight, with Lee Keegan fit and ready to come back into the reckoning, who will drop out of the starting 15 to make way for the current footballer-of-the-year is something that has to be decided. Keegan will come back into the side, that is a given, but where will he play? Putting him on Donaghy is an option, the Westport man relishes the challenge of snuffing out a big-name player and would be up for the task, but in doing so would Mayo lose out too much from his attacking abilities, his running ability strikes fear into even the best of defences in the country. It would be very hard to see either Colm Boyle or Paddy Durcan lose out, could it be one of Mayo's half forward line that gets the chop, maybe Jason Doherty or Diarmuid O'Connor, but once more it would be very harsh on either man to not start the next day, but having one of them on the bench to come into the game later on, could be a great addition down the home stretch. It is a headache for Rochford, but a good one to have.

The battle in the middle third of the field will be something that could be decisive, the Mayo pairing of Tom Parsons and Seamus O'Shea will have their hands full against David Moran and Jack Barry on Sunday, both sets of midfielders are well capable of winning their own ball and whoever gets on top here will have a real say in the outcome. When it comes to making changes in this sector, Mayo may look a little light in comparison to Kerry, with only Donal Vaughan and Aidan O'Shea - both of whom will be probably needed elsewhere - having much experience there at this level of the game, with Danny Kirby, Stephen Coen, and Shane Nally being other options. Kerry can draft in the likes of Jack Savage, Anthony Maher, or even Donaghy to bolster that sector if it starts wavering for them.

When it comes to attacking options off the bench, Conor Loftus seems to be Mayo's number one sub and the Crossmolina man has loads of potential to cause damage if he gets on the ball, while Alan Dillon can give a steadying influence on a game down the closing stretch. Kirby offers a real physical presence in the full forward line if needed and Shane Nally put his hand up with two fine scores against Roscommon. When it comes to the Kingdom's attack from the bench, they can spring players like Barry John Keane, Stephen O'Brien, and Darren O'Sullivan - that trio are more than capable of causing serious headaches to a tiring defence down the home straight. O'Brien and Keane each scored two points each off the bench against Galway in their quarterfinal win.

It is going to be a fascinating encounter on Sunday afternoon, and come 3.30pm we will finally find out who is picking up who, and see where the chips fall, come 5pm.


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