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Analysis: How Mayo handled O'Donoghue in the draw and what they'll do for Kerry replay

Kerry’s danger man hit 1-3 last Sunday and will have a key role in Saturday’s replay.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

HE’S CURRENTLY THE joint-favourite with Dublin’s Paul Flynn to become the 2014 Footballer of the Year and James O’Donoghue’s electric displays have justified his billing as the talisman in Kerry’s team this summer.

O’Donoghue has thrived in the leadership role bestowed upon him in the absence of the injured Colm Cooper. He won man-of-the-match awards against Cork and Galway as he bagged a combined total of 1-15 in those two games.

His threat was well-advertised before last Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final and while Mayo managed to combat him for long stages, O’Donoghue still notched the crucial late goal that saved Kerry and wound up with 1-3 from play.

The Killarney Legion player has 2-18 to his name this summer with 2-16 from play. Indeed his shooting from play has been outstanding with 18 scores from 23 shots – a return of 78%.

So how are Mayo going to quell the threat of O’Donoghue in Saturday’s replay? We’ve taken a closer look at how they fared last Sunday.

First-Half

Mayo attempted to double-mark O’Donoghue in the first-half with Tom Cunniffe assisting Keith Higgins in those duties. O’Donoghue only bagged one point from play in the opening period and that arrived five minutes in.

O’Donoghue’s clever running helped him score but the point owed much to the creativity of Stephen O’Brien. The wing-forward’s direct line of running caused huge problems for Cork in the Munster final and he replicated that move in the 5th minute last Sunday as he went clear of Colm Boyle from 50 yards out.

When O’Brien approached goal, O’Donoghue darted out to make himself available after O’Brien had sucked the Mayo defenders towards him.

When O’Donoghue released his shot, Higgins was his closest challenger but five other Mayo players were close by watching him unleash the strike.

The point helped Kerry draw level at 0-2 apiece and offered bright portents for the rest of the half. But in the 19th minute, O’Brien was substituted with manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice revealing afterwards that he had been bothered by a quad injury.

O’Donoghue couldn’t feed off O’Brien’s probing runs for the remainder of the half and while he was fouled by Donal Vaughan for a free that Paul Geaney converted, the 2013 Allstar did finish the first-half with just a point to his name.

Mayo defending

James Horan would have been pleased at the break with how his Mayo team had contained O’Donoghue. After that early point, he was fed on two further occasions in the next six minutes but the examples below show that he was far from goal and had both Higgins and Cunniffe keeping a close eye on him.

Midfield help

Mayo’s defence also helped from the assistance their midfield provided as they retreated. In this example from the first-half, O’Donoghue gathers the ball 45 yards out but Seamus O’Shea jogs back to take up a defensive role.

O’Shea quickly moves in to help Higgins crowd out O’Donoghue.

And when the ball is offloaded to Declan O’Sullivan, it is O’Shea who gets in to challenge as the Dromid Pearses man gets away his shot. It’s a difficult position to point and the ball drops short. Meanwhile Higgins is nearby in the eventuality that the ball is worked back out to O’Donoghue.

Seamus O'Shea help 3

Second-half

Mayo’s first-half defensive strategy was effective in marshalling O’Donoghue as they restricted him to a point. But they had problems in other areas of the pitch and their gameplan had to be radically altered after Lee Keegan’s sending-off.

Having abandoned the sweeper, they initially looked to be in trouble after half-time as evidenced by David Moran pumping in a delivery that found O’Donoghue in plenty space before he turned and lobbed over a point off his right.

But Mayo learned and when a similar delivery came in from Donnchadh Walsh in the 50th minute, Higgins was far tighter on O’Donoghue, didn’t allow him to break clear and ended up winning a free out.

Goals

While Mayo’s hand was forced when it came to not employing a sweeper in the second-half on Sunday as they only had 14 men, they must consider for Saturday’s replay whether or not to leave Higgins on his own to take care of O’Donoghue.

Higgins is a wonderful player and brilliantly versatile. He mixes his defensive play with great breaks upfield but the potential risk in those surges was highlighted in the 51st minute last Sunday.

As Higgins attacked from midfield, he was turned over by Anthony Maher. Mayo’s defender was caught out of position and disaster looked imminent for Mayo, when Colm Boyle fumbled possession and the ball slipped into O’Donoghue’s grasp.

Kerry had a two v one break as O’Donoghue raced in from the 45 yard line but when he unleashed his strike, the ball flew over the bar. It was a glorious opportunity that O’Donoghue should have netted from and it was a major let-off for Mayo.

But then O’Donoghue made amends by netting in the closing minutes. The problem for this occasion for Mayo was in dealing with Kieran Donaghy and while he is not named to start on Saturday, he is a threat that Mayo may have to deal with at some juncture.

On this occasion, O’Donoghue makes a clever angled run as the ball drops in on top of Donaghy and Ger Cafferkey.

Higgins is drawn towards Donaghy and when the ball is ferried to O’Donoghue, he has the time to plant the ball in the back of the net.

Replay

Facing a player of O’Donoghue’s calibre – and given the rich vein of form he is currently in – it is extremely difficult for Mayo to hope that they can keep him scoreless. The key is the extent to which they can limit his scoring return on Saturday. He still managed to be on the ball 22 times last Sunday, finished with 1-3, missed the chance to point the winner at the end and should have grabbed another goal.

Mayo were offered an insight into how to manage him using a sweeper or going man for man. Whatever strategy they implement on Saturday will be fascinating and will have a key influence on the outcome.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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