For the fourth season in a row, Mayo face into a replay at the business end of the championship. 2014 saw them fall to Kerry at the second attempt. 2015 was a loss to Dublin after a replay at the semi-final stage while 2016 was one step closer as they took Dublin to another replay, this time in the All-Ireland final.
2017 pits them up against Kerry again and after three consecutive replay losses, the Green and Red will hoping that they will finally get over the line. Last Sunday was also their fourth draw in this year’s championship alone. And so far 2017 has prescribed two extra-time successes over Derry and Cork along with a replay annihilation of Roscommon.
Now Mayo face another big test as they play Kerry in another replay and we pick out three key players that they will need to perform if they are finally to get that replay hoodoo of their backs.
1. Aidan O’Shea
Eyes will automatically turn to where Aidan O’Shea lines out. More than likely he will start midfield for the throw-in, but then everyone will watch closely to see where he goes. The deployment of the Breaffy man at full-back to man-mark Kieran Donaghy got a mixed reception. It shocked everybody while the cliché of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ was thrown about like confetti in the analysis of the game.
Donaghy was influential, yet the positioning of O’Shea at full-back did force Kerry to change their approach. They were not as direct and it could be argued that James O’Donoghue did not bear the usual fruits of Donaghy’s ball winning and off loading ability.
Wherever O’Shea is placed in the replay, he will be influential, and Mayo will hope that it is in a positive capacity. If he remains at full-back, he gives himself scope to improved and shut down the dangerous Kerry attack. And if he is pushed further up the field, he will be expected to provide Mayo with an extra dimension in attack.
2. Lee Keegan
It is another obvious choice, but the reigning Footballer of the Year is a player that has more in him ahead of the replay. It could be a case that he is yet to fully recover from the illness that prevented him from lining out in the quarter-final replay against Roscommon, but Keegan is one player that Mayo will be hoping can add more to their overall team performance.
Like the aforementioned Aidan O’Shea, how Stephen Rochford opts to use Keegan will be of utmost interest. Keegan demonstrated in 2016, his ability as a man-marker on top of his obvious attacking prowess from the backline. Could Saturday see him given a man-marking role on Paul Geaney?
It would be a big move if O’Shea and Keegan were both to line out in the full-back line, or could Keegan and O’Shea potentially swap? We have been bold calls from Rochford in the past, but either way, Mayo need Keegan to be highly influential on Saturday.
3. Andy Moran
1-5 from play in the drawn game has led to Moran setting a very high standard for himself ahead of the replay. Scores from inside forwards in crunch games have been Mayo’s main failing in their quest to break The Curse of 51 but they had one of their finest ever players on song in the drawn game last Sunday, the challenge for Mayo and Moran is to get a similar return.
There is no doubting Moran’s ball winning and work-rate but some may question his scoring return. But age and injury history are not overly kind to the Ballaghaderreen man, but he clicked last Sunday and Mayo will be hoping for a repeat performance.
Now aged 33, and having torn his cruciate knee ligament back in 2012, Moran has often been substituted in games, and a six-day turnaround will test him to the limit. But if Moran can play as well as he did last Sunday, then he could be their most important player of all in deciding their destiny.
Listen to our review and preview of Kerry v Mayo on The 16th Man with Dominos.
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