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2014 revisited, Donaghy renaissance, Kingdom's defensive worries - Kerry-Mayo talking points

There’s an All-Ireland senior football final spot on offer for the winners.

AFTER THOSE LOPSIDED quarter-finals, the scene is set for two hugely competitive All-Ireland senior football championship semi-final clashes.

First into the Croke Park ring on Sunday are Mayo and Kerry – in a fixture that promises to lift the 2017 championship to new heights.

These sides are no strangers to each other and when they met in the League back in February, Mayo came from behind to win in Tralee.

That will count for little at Croke Park, however, with an All-Ireland final slot up for grabs.

Here, we take a look at some of the main talking points ahead of the game, as both counties chase a 17 September final showdown with Dublin or Tyrone….

1. 2014 revisited

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Sunday’s clash will revive memories of the two-game semi-final epic between the counties three years ago.

Kieran O’Leary’s late point salvaged a replay for the Kingdom at Croke Park – and they won a thrilling rematch at the Gaelic Grounds.

That tie went to extra-time and Mayo had Cillian O’Connor sent off late on.

Referee Cormac Reilly’s performance drew the ire of Mayo fans – and he had to wait until this year before taking charge of another game involving the county. 

If this semi-final delivers even a fraction of the drama we witnessed across two games in 2014, we’re in for a treat.

2. Can Mayo go up another level?

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Mayo looked vulnerable in their quarter-final draw with Roscommon – but cranked up the heat in the replay to blow the Connacht champions to smithereens.

It was arguably Mayo’s best championship performance under Stephen Rochford – and appears to have set them up for a genuine tilt at Kerry.

Mayo tweaked their game-plan from the drawn game brilliantly – and their running power proved too much for the Rossies.

Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice will have taken note, as Mayo certainly have the pace and athleticism to trouble the Kingdom.

But Kerry cruised through their quarter-final against Galway, with a performance that suggests there’s plenty more in the tank.

And you’d have to wonder for low long more Mayo can continue going to the well.

3. Kieran Donaghy’s renaissance

Since as far back as 2006, Kieran Donaghy’s been a regular thorn in Mayo’s side.

In the All-Ireland final 11 years ago, Donaghy scored Kerry’s second goal as they ran riot against the Westerners.

Source: eir GAA/YouTube

Donaghy finished with 1-2 on that occasion and in the aforementioned 2014 draw, he came off the bench to make a huge impact and help to salvage a replay.

At the Gaelic Grounds, Donaghy scored a goal and James O’Donoghue was simply unstoppable, registering 2-6, including two penalty goals.

Now 34, Donaghy’s been brilliant for Kerry recently, and he bagged 1-1 in the recent Galway win, including a cracking goal.

There’s a freshness about the Austin Stacks colossus, who made his first start of the year in the Munster final victory over Cork.

He’s the perfect outlet for the kind of ball that will beat the blanket – long and to the edge of the square.

And with lethal corner forwards O’Donoghue and Paul Geaney loitering with intent for any potential breaks, it’s a tactic that allows Kerry to mix it up successfully.

Kerry’s defensive frailties

Brian Kelly Kerry goalkeeper Brian Kelly was brilliant against Galway. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Mayo collected 4-19 against Roscommon last time out – and that could spell trouble for Kerry.

The Kingdom, albeit winning comfortably, looked vulnerable defensively in their quarter-final victory over Galway.

The Tribesmen had a number of clear goal chances that, if taken, could have made life really uncomfortable for the Munster champions.

Goalkeeper Brian Kelly was excellent between the sticks and his display was a timely one for Fitzmaurice, after reserve net-minder Brendan Kealy walked away.

But Fitzmaurice will naturally hope that Kelly has a lot less work to do when Mayo pitch up GAA HQ for an eagerly-anticipated battle.

The man in black

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Maurice Deegan’s one of the most experienced whistlers in the game – and refereed last year’s All-Ireland final replay between Mayo and Dublin.

The Laois official controversially black-carded Lee Keegan in the first half of that game – and pulled the same card from his pocket when goalkeeper Rob Hennelly pulled down Paddy Andrews to concede a second half penalty.

Deegan angered Mayo when he opted not to black-card John Small, for a blatant hand-trip on Andy Moran.

But Deegan’s already taken charge of Mayo this year – in their dramatic qualifier victory over Derry, while also overseeing the Down-Monaghan qualifier.

Deegan’s last championship game with Kerry in charge was the 2016 All-Ireland quarter-final against Clare at Croke Park.

GAA chiefs recognise that a strong referee is required for what could be a spiky game – and Deegan has the experience of three All-Ireland deciders to call upon.

Big games are won by big players

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Aidan O’Shea’s return to top form couldn’t have come at a better time for Mayo.

He’s been a massive leader for the green and red recently – with the likes of Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran also stepping up to the mark after below-par displays in the drawn match with Roscommon.

In the Kerry replay three years ago, O’Shea and O’Connor were involved in a sickening collision which seemed to blunt their impact.

But they’ll delve into that hurt locker for this latest assignment with their big rivals from down South.

Question marks remain over the Kerry defence but David Moran’s been superb at midfield and Kerry’s scoring power can compensate for any problems further back.

Geaney, Donaghy and O’Donoghue are the obvious go-to men – but Stephen Rochford will choose his match-ups wisely and try to put the key trio on the back foot.

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