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Friday, 14 December, 2018

Kingdom come to Croke Park to break Mayo hearts

Two attacking sides could make for a goal-fest

Mayo's 2016 Footballer of the Year Lee Keegan, whose 1-3 from play helped force a replay with Roscommon in the All-Ireland quarter-final
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All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Kerry v Mayo
RTE 2 & Sky Sports Arena, 3.30pm Sunday

Kerry and Mayo meet in Sunday’s All-Ireland football semi-final as both teams bid to be the first to book a berth in the 2017 decider on the third Sunday in September.

This will be the first championship meeting of these two sides since their epic encounter in the All-Ireland semi-final replay in the Gaelic Grounds in 2014, when Kerry came out on top following extra-time before going on to win the All Ireland.

Since 2014, Kerry and Mayo have taken turns losing All-Ireland finals to Dublin, so both will be itching to get back for another stab at the the title.

Kerry have enjoyed an easy trip to this stage of the championship, waltzing through Munster and easily beating Galway in their All-Ireland quarter-final clash.

They have been ultra-professional throughout, dispatching opponents without ever coming out of second gear, but they will be wary of any complacency that may enter the dressing room.

Kerry easing to an All-Ireland semi-final is nothing out of the ordinary, so they will have been well prepared in recent weeks to match Mayo’s intensity.

Mayo’s trip to this stage has been the polar opposite. They crashed out of the Connacht championship to Galway at the semi-final stage, and have struggled their way through the qualifiers.

Victories over Derry (AET), Clare and Cork (AET) were far from convincing, but they came through those tests in typical fashion.

Two early goals from Roscommon in their quarter-final meeting had Mayo on the ropes, but 2016 footballer of the year Lee Keegan carried Mayo back into the game. He finished with 1-3 from play to force a replay.

The subsequent four-goal ruthless demolition of Roscommon in the replay illustrated how well Mayo can play, but they will need to improve again to beat a Kerry team who have been flying.

2016 All-Star Paul Geaney has continued where he left off, showing excellent form throughout the league and championship. The full-forward line of Geaney, Kieran Donaghy and James O’Donoghue have the ability to cause serious trouble to any defence, and Mayo will need to get to grips with them.

When these sides met in the 2014 replay, the trio finished with 3-10 between them, so the Mayo defence will be fully aware of the threat they pose.

Mark Griffin, seen here getting to grips with Monaghan's Jack McCarron, has been impressive in defence for Kerry this year

Kerry have also been strong in defence with Mark Griffin being particularly impressive in this year's championship, while Paul Murphy’s ability to run from deep and take scores is a constant danger.

Although not fully tested, their strength in depth was shown in their quarter-final win over Galway with Stephen O’Brien, Barry John Keane and Jack Savage all coming on to score and display their worth.

While Mayo have had a tough season, isn't necessarily an issue for them coming into Sunday’s semi-final. They are notorious for doing things the hard way, but they have improved throughout the championship and they will be hoping their stars can hit form when it really matters.

Aidan O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor carried Mayo through the early parts of the qualifiers, and Lee Keegan was vital in their drawn game with Roscommon. Similar to Kerry, their ability to run from deep and take scores from distance will be vital.

These two sides have shown their attacking ability throughout the championship, and that should mean goals will be on the cards.

While Kerry have scored just one goal in each of their championship encounters, they have been content to take points when goal chances were there, due to the ease in which they won those games.

Mayo have scored 12 goals in their seven games, and were ruthless in putting four past Roscommon. Clearly, both teams will need to take their chances on Sunday, and two extremely dangerous attacking sides should get goals.

Ultimately, though, Mayo have ridden their luck throughout the 2017 championship, and that could catch up on them against a professional Kerry outfit.

Kerry have displayed flashes of real class this year, and showed their ability to turn it on when it mattered in the league. Their league final win over Dublin set the standard, and their greater strength in depth could prove key as the game moves into the closing stages.

They should have too much for Mayo.

Kerry -2
3pts Evens Hills
Over 2.5 goals
2pts 6-5 Paddy Power
Over 1.5 Kerry goals
1pt 6-4 BoyleSports, Paddy Power

Mayo crashed out of the Connacht championship to Galway and have struggled their way through the qualifiers
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