Friday, August 05, 2005

Final Reprise: Old Foes- Same Old Story?

Ten months on from last year's crushing All-Ireland final defeat, Mayo fetch up at Jones' Road this Sunday to face the self-same oppressors, Kerry, in the second of the day's All-Ireland Senior Football Quarter Finals.

The magnitude of that reverse last September leads to the inescapable conclusion that this Sunday represents a forlorn task for the Westerners. Aside from the harsh statistics of it, the psychological damage that Gooch Cooper and his colleagues inflicted on a county already haunted by past failures on big days must have been severe.

In the football championship equivalent of a wife-swap, Sunday's four quarter finalists come from the Connacht and Munster final line-ups, Kerry exhanging Cork for Mayo, and Mayo offering up Galway to the Rebels. Curiously both finals were similarly poor quality, low-scoring affairs, meaning that form analysts must scratch their heads to figure out who comes into the closing stretch in the best shape.

Kerry, of course, carry the sheen of champions, their team, indeed squad, laden with golden names and dripping with quality. But there has been a distinct lack of sparkle about the kingdom this year so far. The victory over Limerick was a grind, and close analysis could only pick out Cooper as having performed satisfactorily that day. The win over Cork was also unspectacular.

That Jack O'Connor has droped Paul Galvin from Sunday's team illustrates two opposing things for Kerry. Firstly the acknowlegement that the talented half-forward, like several of his team-mates, has not impressed this year. Secondly though, the very fact that O'Connor feels able to drop an All-Star forward of such ability, bringing in William Kirby to midfield and pushing Eoin Brosnan forward a notch, speaks volumes for the sheer embarassment of riches that Kerry possess- and the competitive nature of their panel.

One could not imagine John Maughan being able to consider dropping Ciaran McDonald under any circumstances (okay, an unfair comparison, as McDonald is more key a player to Mayo than Galvin is to Kerry), and as usual much of Mayo's hopes rest on how he can function with the rest of his forward line. Encouragingly for Mayo their defence has been outstandingly tight so far, this the maligned back-line who yielded so flimsily in the face of the Kingdom assault last September. It must happen further forward for them on Sunday, and this will require sharper shooting than displayed against Cavan in last weekend's qualifier, as well as McDonald delivering more quick hurtful ball inside, eliminating the sand dancing.

The only hope for Mayo is that Kerry might have a touch of the Kilkenny's about them this year. If you remember last year, the Cats, aiming for a historic three in a row of hurling titles, never really hit top gear (the thrashing of Galway aside), never seemed to flow in the big games, and when it came to the final against Cork there was nothing in the tank, despite the rich panel and the famously competitive training: road weariness had set in. Of course the fact that Kerry haven't excelled yet does not necessarily mean that they won't, but for Mayo, it appears, the only hope is that they aren't able to turn that magic on like a tap.

For, if they do, the western tragedians will be scribbling again.


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