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Kerry tradition poses big threat to Mayo's All-Ireland dream finally coming true

Kerry v Mayo, All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Croke Park, Sunday, 3.30 pm

By Declan Bogue

Congratulations to whoever it was noticed that the six starting Kerry forwards that lined up against Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final a fortnight back was the same sextet that began the 2014 All-Ireland quarter-final replay against Mayo in Limerick's Gaelic Grounds.

Of course, that year represents Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice's only All-Ireland, won curiously in the year that Colm 'Gooch' Cooper was unavailable while recuperating from a cruciate ligament injury, but still, it says something about the longevity and durability of the group.

Mayo have no shortage of familiar faces today from that day either. Outside of Dublin, they are the most consistent team in Ireland. But as manager Stephen Rochford points out: "Kerry went on to win an All-Ireland that year and we're still seeking that."

Once again Mayo are back in a semi-final, tested and tried through a qualifiers route that Rochford would have liked to have avoided, admitting that they had put "huge energy" into winning Connacht this year.

As ever, the present is informed by the past. In that first 2014 semi-final, Mayo had Kerry beaten and left for dead, before a desperate late card was played by Kerry boss Fitzmaurice. In the quarter-final win over Galway he sent on six subs and none of them was Kieran Donaghy.

With minutes remaining, he sent on Donaghy in the semi. He fetched a high delivery from David Moran and set up the rescuing goal from James O'Donoghue.

Not only did it resurrect that game, but Donaghy's game, Donaghy's career, Kerry's season and Fitzmaurice's future.

They finished that year with Sam together, Donaghy another goal in the All-Ireland final, and so here he still remains. Fitzmaurice admits that he never pauses to consider what might have happened if Donaghy followed through on his promise to himself to leave the panel.

"I had one of the best seats in the house to watch that bloody goal!" recalls Rochford now, who was over Galway club Corofin at the time.

"You could see the ball coming from an age, from David Moran out on the wing, and James's movement off Kieran Donaghy and next thing it's in the back of the net."

While he doesn't consider the alternative reality of life without 'Star' Donaghy, Fitzmaurice is delighted to still have him, having tempted him back over the winter after he went and let his hair down with the basketball crew in Tralee.

"I'd say he had in his head last year to retire, but I said it to him early in the summer, I can't remember when, around the time of the Munster final, I said, 'There's more in you, keep going, you'll be gone for long enough'," said his former team-mate.

"And he thought about it I'd say, and he'd a bit of thinking to do. I think particularly with his book coming out he probably saw that as being a kind of a natural end, but he went away and he enjoyed his basketball for the winter and it kept him in good shape.

"He came back in to us and he's been like a breath of fresh air. I'm not surprised, no, he's training that way night in, night out so he's playing well and he's in a good place."

As a player, Fitzmaurice had two extremely easy experiences in All-Ireland finals, beating Mayo in 2004 and 2006.

The current crop he manages will never have things that handy against a Mayo side that is the human incarnation of the Bobo Doll. No matter how hard they are hit, they are immediately up again in seconds and ready for more.

"It's like any team, when you have the quality that they have and the hunger that they obviously have, you're going to keep coming back," says Fitzmaurice.

"Why not? You're going to keep going and going until you get what you want. It doesn't overly surprise me that you lose games or that you lose games by narrow margins.

"Obviously it's very disappointing at the time but it's only going to make you hungrier to come back and make sure you do get it over the line. They're good, I think that's why they keep coming back."

Last year they went from their first defeat in Connacht in six years to Galway to an All-Ireland final replay.

They can reach that stage again. They're certain of it.

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