Preview: Division I - Mayo v Kerry
Sunday, March 13
Allianz Football League Division I
Mayo v Kerry, Elverys MacHale Park, 2.30pm
A quick look at the Division I table reveals why this is such a big game for both sides. A defeat for Mayo would leave them in real danger of relegation, while Kerry need a victory if they are to keep themselves in the hunt for a semi-final place going in to the final two rounds.
The Kingdom are on a roll following victories over Down and Donegal in Rounds 3 and 4, two wins that went a long way towards making up for the disappointing defeats to Dublin and Roscommon in their opening two games. As sweet as the cruising win over Down was two weeks ago, it was last weekend's victory in a stormy game in Tralee against Donegal that will likely stand to Kerry the most.
Kerry emerged from the battle, which saw 10 cards dished out, with a five-point winning margin, and manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice was delighted to get the two points, knowing that it sets his side up for a charge for the semi-finals ahead of their three remaining games.
“We've a tough away game against Mayo, we've to go to Clones and we've Cork in the last game so it was important for us to win the game and the attitude all week in training was excellent and I knew from the lads when they came in that they meant business," he said. "Mayo hasn't been a happy hunting ground for us in Castlebar so it’s a place where we’ll get a challenge again.”
Kerry's uptick in form has coincided with the return to fitness of the increasingly influential Bryan Sheehan, as well as the likes of Aidan O'Mahony, Peter Crowley, Colm Cooper and Kieran Donaghy. Veteran Marc Ó Sé is also back in the saddle although he is a doubt for Sunday after suffering a broken nose in the game against Donegal.
While a defeat would not be good news for Kerry, Mayo's need for the two points is greater this weekend. Having lost their opening three games, the Westerners don't have much breathing space in the top tier, and defeat would leave them in a clear battle for survival going into their Round 6 and 7 contests against Roscommon and Down.
However, last weekend's superb 2-11 to 1-12 win over in-form Monaghan in Clones was a reminder of what Mayo can do when they have most of their best players on the field, something that hasn't been the case for them previously in 2016. While they are still without key duo Cillian O'Connor and Keith Higgins, Mayo had most of their big guns on the field last week, even though the loss of Aidan O'Shea to a black card after just 10 minutes was a big blow.
“We don’t really have a target in terms of points overall, just to try and win every game from now on," said All Star defender Lee Keegan after the Monaghan win. "We are looking at it that it is Championship time now and every game is kind of a knock-out. We will take it as it comes on that basis. Beating Monaghan was a huge momentum builder for us because it’s all about building confidence and there is no better way of doing that than by getting wins up on the board.”
These two counties are long-time residents of the top tier, so they are well used to each other. Mayo are unbeaten in their last five league games against the Kingdom, have beaten them in their last four league games, and in the last two in Castlebar, as Fitzmaurice alluded to. However, Kerry have won the most important encounter between the sides in the last four years, that one being the famous All-Ireland semi-final replay in Limerick in 2014.