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Galway come into this game on the back of a big victory over Roscommon last time out. Their opponents set up very defensively in that tie and probably didn’t go at Galway as much as they should have.
On the flip side, the biggest issue for Mayo is Cillian O’Connor’s absence for the rest of the season through injury. But, an injury like that can really drive on a squad and unify it behind a cause. I know from experience when Kerry lost Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper in 2014, it may have been a massive blow for us, but collectively it really made us want to carry on and get to an All-Ireland final for him – which we did and we won it.
With O’Connor out, it has forced Mayo to spread around the scores a bit more and they have a very athletic team now. Meanwhile, Galway seem to rely on Shane Walsh to make themselves tick and I’m expecting a massive battle between him and Oisin Mullin for Mayo. Mullin appeared to come out of nowhere last season and all of a sudden, he was an All-Star. He’s one of Mayo’s leading defenders now, and looks like an utter clone of Lee Keegan.
The game being in Croke Park is also a factor. The last time Mayo were there, they lost to Dublin in an All-Ireland final so James Horan’s men will want to banish that ghost on Sunday. I believe Mayo will fancy their chances here and Horan should have his panel really primed to take on their greatest rivals.
Galway had a poor National League campaign, and the memories of their battering at the hands of Kerry in the first round of the League still lingers over the team. This is a Connacht final though, and they won’t fear playing Mayo either. However, I just feel Mayo have enough to get over the line and they should do it by at least two points to cover the (-1) handicap on offer.
I could lie to you and say this isn’t a revenge mission for Kerry after their shock defeat to Cork last year, but it is. It really was a tough way to lose if you were a Kerry player, with The Rebels netting with the last kick of the game. It reminded me of Stephen Cluxton coming up from goals to grab the winner for Dublin against The Kingdom in the 2011 All-Ireland final.
The Kerry players would have gone away in the winter and said that they would gear themselves towards this game. The match is on in their home pitch in Killarney and they’ve got a lot of hurt to put to bed as well. The players and the management team got plenty of stick in the county over that defeat to Cork last year, they will not forget about that when the ball is thrown in on Sunday.
Kerry have utterly cruised through the National League and their first two Championship games to date in 2021, they probably haven’t had a test actually. Meanwhile, Cork had to battle to get over the line last time out against Limerick. But, you’d still have to Kerry’s chances at home here. I will never write off Cork though – especially after what happened last November – they always have something up their sleeve.
Cork will be in this for long parts of the game, so Peter Keane will need his big players – David Clifford, Sean O’Shea, Paudie Clifford – to keep the scoreboard ticking over. This game will certainly be tighter than the eight-point handicap on offer. Cork also have Cian O’Neill in their backroom team, and he will know a lot about the lads in this Kingdom squad.
This is a massive game and there is a spot in the All-Ireland semi-final at stake for the winner. Kerry will go after this from the start though, and I expect them to take this by four to six points.
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