Belfast Telegraph

Kildare have to home in on the game

By Peter Canavan

The 'Newbridge or nowhere' campaign means it has been a messy week for Kildare and Mayo. The row has been well covered but the GAA didn't cover themselves in glory with the way they handled things and forced Kildare into a corner.

It was finally settled on Wednesday, and Kildare won the battle, but we'll have to wait and see the long-term repercussions of their decision to take Croke Park on so publicly. Relations there are surely strained.

Still, somewhere beneath all the noise and recriminations there's the potential for a brilliant football match to break out. And, if anything, the venue row adds another layer to an already intriguing encounter that sees both counties put their seasons on the line.

I would have fancied Mayo as soon as the teams were paired but Kildare have a cause to get behind. There's been plenty of talk around Cian O'Neill since the Carlow defeat and whether he's in his final days as manager, but this should have galvanised them.

If they can use the events of this week in the right way then they'll have a chance going down the home straight because they certainly have the footballers to hurt Mayo.

There's pressure on those players now to stand up for their manager in the way he did for them. If they can pull it all together and deliver a big performance, things could take off for them. They'd be just one step from a place in the Super 8s then and that would give their season a totally different complexion.

Kildare have a real chance because it's hard to get away from the feeling that Mayo might be a little vulnerable just now. Not for the first time over the last few seasons, they diced with death against Tipperary.

You can only speculate as to what might have happened if they didn't get that slice of good fortune with James Durcan's goal in Semple Stadium. And since that game it has been confirmed that Seamus O'Shea has joined Tom Parsons on the injury list, meaning their first-choice midfielders are sidelined.

So Stephen Rochford will have to shuffle the deck again. Of all the managers of the top counties, he can probably afford it least, but I don't see him changing the role he has found for Aidan O'Shea.

In previous seasons, O'Shea has popped up all over the field in what looked like something of a free role. This year he's been much more withdrawn, playing in a quarterback role of sorts. It suits Mayo because it lets their attacking backs off the leash.

O'Shea stays home and Paddy Durcan, Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle and Lee Keegan get on with the business of attacking. There are few better in the business than those men at getting forward and creating overlaps. They can bomb on in the knowledge O'Shea will mind the house. It's an interesting role for him, considering he started out life in the forwards. O'Shea is something of a conundrum for a manager because he's good at many different parts of the game yet doesn't fit neatly into any of the traditional positions.

Rochford has found one for him and it brings one of the strongest parts of his game into play - his tackling - and Mayo are reaping the rewards of that. Before the Tipperary game I went through a few clips of him on Sky, showing him making big interventions against Galway.

At one stage he's back helping out Chris Barrett, who is getting a tough time from Damien Comer. Another clip shows him making a brilliant hit on Tom Flynn to turn him over, just when it looked like a road to goal was about to open up on him. On another occasion he stays in the tackle long enough to force a speed merchant like Eamonn Brannigan to turn back. Every turnover gave Mayo the platform to attack.

But if they have found a role for O'Shea, Rochford has his work cut out in other areas of the pitch. His team selection this weekend will be very interesting. Diarmuid O'Connor did a fine job around the middle when he came on against Tipperary.

Keegan has played there too, but it feels a little like Mayo are playing musical chairs and that when the music stops, they'll be left standing. They need all their best players firing. At the moment they are struggling to get them all on the pitch.

This will be tight, but Mayo know how to win tight games. On the other hand, Kildare have been on the wrong side of a few. But I don't think Rochford has found what he needed to in attack since last year's All-Ireland final.

He's put plenty of minutes into the likes of Cian Hanley and James Durcan, but they aren't natural finishers, while Cillian O'Connor and Andy Moran have yet to find their form of last year. And when you look at the other contenders, they have real firepower.

Shane Walsh and Damien Comer are doing it for Galway. Donegal have lost Paddy McBrearty - which admittedly is a savage blow - but they have found Jamie Brennan, while Dublin's forwards have been doing it for years now.

That's for further down the line. Mayo will do what they do and survive, but they know they still have questions to answer.

Belfast Telegraph

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