What can Kerry and Mayo take from a March league meeting in Tralee?

THE TWO SIDES beaten in the 2021 All-Ireland series by the eventual champions Tyrone, met in Tralee on Saturday night.

Kerry and Mayo both entered the game unbeaten in the league to date, and while the spoils went to the home team, both remain in the top two spots in Division 1.

Part of the current leading football group, what can either take from the mid-March meeting on a night of torrential rain?

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Kerry dig deep for victory

There were clear parallels that could be drawn between Kerry’s Round 5 tie on Saturday and their Round 1 game in late January in Newbridge. They were in front 1-10 to 0-9 in the 58th minute against Kildare and were ahead of Mayo 1-10 to 0-10 in the 55th minute in Tralee.

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Kerry didn’t move the scoreboard thereafter against Kildare, hauled back for a draw as they leaked the last four points of the match. On Saturday something similar looked set to happen as three Mayo points on the spin drew them level but Kerry found the wherewithal to push ahead twice through David Clifford frees, the last proving the match-winner.

In a bruising battle on a sodden night, it was easy to understand why Jack O’Connor was so satisfied afterwards. He cannot influence how lopsided Munster football has become in his team’s favour, they are standout favourites to add another provincial title to their collection by late May.

That system will prompt concerns of them being undercooked by the time they reach the All-Ireland series. O’Connor’s awareness of that explains why he stressed after Saturday night’s game, that this was one they had explicitly targeted to collect a win.

Hitting the net and missing the target

A core strength of Mayo teams is their defensive prowess, specialist markers at the back allow them to push on further upfield. Padraig O’Hora and Oisin Mullin were principally detailed to protect the goalmouth on Saturday night, both taking up position next to David Clifford at different stages.

They were really only unlocked once, but it was a critical moment. Tony Brosnan skipped through in the 21st minute after a move he started himself, that availed of Lee Keegan slipping, with the swift passing of Clifford and Adrian Spillane also integral, before the Dr Crokes man slammed his shot to the net.

Kerry forward Tony Brosnan (file photo).

Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

Kerry were clinical when the first-half chance presented itself, Mayo in contrast were not. Aiden Orme’s connection was poor as he dragged a shot wide and Diarmuid O’Connor was denied by Shane Murphy’s intervention, both in the second quarter when raising a green flag would have boosted Mayo’s prospects.

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If it seems a simplistic analysis, it’s worth thinking back to that aspect of last year’s All-Ireland final and how this can be a recurring issue for Mayo. Kerry have seven goals in this year’s league to date, joint highest in Division 1 with Armagh, and only bettered by Galway’s tally of nine across the top two tiers.

Absent attackers

Shortly before throw-in, there was a row of seats filled in the main stand at Austin Stack Park. David Moran, Dan O’Donoghue, Gavin White and Sean O’Shea amongst the group that filed in, a reminder of how Kerry’s depth had been tested. The absence of O’Shea, instrumental to Kerry’s progress this spring, was a reminder of how his playmaking talents at 11 will be central to Kingdom aspirations this year. Paul Geaney, a late withdrawal through illness, is another valuable option closer to goal.

Ryan O’Donoghue in action for Mayo against Kerry.

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

Mayo lacked their own big-name forwards. Tommy Conroy’s season-ending knee problem will continue to be a source of regret for their camp. There has yet to be a sign of Cillian O’Connor in action since his Achilles tendon injury last June brought his year to a halt. Much of Mayo’s attacking strategy on Saturday night revolved around Ryan O’Donoghue as a focal point and if he didn’t score from play, he was a constant menace in winning frees, which he nervelessly converted. Fergal Boland weighed in with three impressive points but Mayo’s forward line lacked the necessary output to win this.

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