Dear me, not again. The winners of this year’s Sam Maguire will have their name etched on the famous trophy but there is absolutely no doubt Mayo’s 2017 championship campaign will command the most paragraphs in the championship 2017 yearbook. Bizarre does not even go close to explaining it. Mayo supporters again travelled in their tens of thousands clogging the N5 and N4 all the way to the capital from early morning. It is very obvious that football is more important than Christmas for the supporters of the green and red who now have to contend with a ninth championship game in 2017 after another heart stopping semifinal clash with Kerry in Croke Park. They will not have a cent left for the festive period.
The Bomber and the Star
Years ago you could have been crowned All-Ireland champions after just four games. As was forecast, the deluge arrived just before the minor game making underfoot conditions horrific for both sets of players. The 2-14 apiece score line a credit to the skill levels of both teams, surpassing anything near what I expected to be scored, 2-13 of Mayo’s haul coming from open play. It was a game that had a bit of everything - tension, mistakes, brilliant scores, questionable tactics, and a grandstand finish. The decision by the Mayo management to plant Aidan O'Shea at full back to thwart the threat of Kieran Donaghy most definitely the most talked about event arising from the game. It had been suggested during the week but laughed off because why would we risk and waste our biggest forward driving force to man mark a guy when he had never played in that position before albeit for a cameo against Kildare in the qualifiers last year when the game was home and hosed. It certainly took balls from Stephen Rochford and when the first high ball landed in between O'Shea and Donaghy and the Breaffy Bomber bullied the Kerry full forward out of the way to win possession, clear the danger, and drive the team forward it looked like it was a clever tactical move. The Mayo supporters cheered as if we had scored a goal. The problem however, that was the last high ball Kerry landed in on top of Donaghy for the rest of the afternoon apart from when Aidan O'Shea miscontrolled a pass from the brilliant Keith Higgins that went out for a Kerry sideline ball. Kerry, knowing O'Shea was out of position, landed the resultant sideline on top of Donaghy who broke the ball to David Moran. Moran’s shot was brilliantly saved by David Clarke but Johnny Buckley was on hand to finish from a tight angle. Kerry simply played delicate little passes in front of Donaghy who had loads of space and time to conduct matters from his full forward berth until his withdrawal. O'Shea looked out of sorts for much of the afternoon and Donaghy was not shy about telling him, having a right cut at him after he set up Stephen O'Brien for Kerry’s first goal. For me that type of sledging deserves a black card and has no place in our game. I would be equally as annoyed if a Mayo player did it to an opponent.
Mayo did so much right, but there is room to improve
There is no doubt Mayo should have had more than parity at the half time whistle. Our inside forward line murdered the Kerry full back line. Jason Doherty, Cillian O'Connor, and particularly Andy Moran were ravenous for the ball. Eamon Fitzmaurice’s decision to leave his full back line isolated was baffling to say the least as Andy Moran helped himself to a 1-03 first half tally. The entire full forward line were beating their direct markers into submission yet Kerry failed to offer any protection. Brendan Harrison's duel with Paul Geaney up the other end was box office. I thought Harrison had a great game but then again Geaney got three from play which is a very healthy return. The winner of that particular contest for the replay is likely to have a big bearing on which team makes it to the final. Lee Keegan will know he will need to be more involved for the replay and our midfield will need to strive for dominance where I presume Aidan O'Shea will be perched to offer assistance to the hard working Tom Parsons and his brother Seamus. As suggested last week, Donal Vaughan for me is most suited to mark Donaghy. Fast, physical, and powerful, and he would be willing to scrap with the Pope to get the ball. There could easily be another rabbit out of the hat scenario for either manager for the replay, second guessing them is virtually impossible. I cannot envisage as much space for Andy Moran and co. If Mayo want it bad enough, and they do, I feel Kerry are there for the taking. At least Cormac Reilly is not reffing.