Kerry and Mayo in contention for National Football League title: Which team would benefit most from a win? | GAA News

Brian Barry

GAA Editor @BrianGBarry

Ahead of the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final between Kerry and Mayo, we take a look at how teams are preparing for the summer and consider who would get the most benefit from claiming silverware on Sunday afternoon.

Last update: 03/29/22 2:40 p.m.

David Clifford and Oisín Mullin at the teams meeting earlier this month

Kerry and Mayo come to Croke Park on Sunday with big summer ambitions.

For both teams, a National League title would be no consolation if they failed to clinch the big title in July. Neither would lament a league final defeat later in the year, should they win the All-Ireland title.

Nonetheless, claiming spring honors would be a welcome boost for both sides as the championship looms on the horizon.

Kerry looking for a summer launch pad

If you count the crown shared with Dublin last year, Kerry is in the hunt for a third straight National League title on Sunday.

Under Peter Keane they were unable to use these successes as a springboard for further success.

But Jack O’Connor has proven himself in this area. During his previous two terms as Kerry’s chief football manager, the Kingdom won league titles in 2004, 2006 and 2009. He also led the county to the Sam Maguire Cup on three occasions – in 2004, 2006 and 2009.

O'Connor places significant stock in the league

O’Connor places significant stock in the league

He has clearly placed significant stock in the league this year and spoke about their plans following the win over Mayo earlier this month.

“We wanted the league to test certain things, play against different systems,” he explained.

“It was a very different test to the games we played against Donegals and Monaghans. It was very different. There was a fierce pace in that game for the month of March and Mayo gave us sacks full there It was great to be able to withstand that. We didn’t do a lot of practice. Just bits and pieces. It’s good that the guys have the resilience to withstand that.

“We just focus on winning a few games. I mean Mayo have a fantastic record here (Tralee). I think I was involved the last time we beat Mayo here in 2009, that’s 13 years ago. We knew tonight was going to be touch and go. We’re obviously down a few bodies with people like Seanie (O’Shea) and Paul Geaney and a few like that. We’re trying to work on a setup where an individual gives up, it’s really noticed the way we play.

O'Connor celebrates victory over Armagh, which sealed Kerry's final league spot

O’Connor celebrates victory over Armagh, which sealed Kerry’s final league spot

O’Connor cut a lively figure on the touchline at Armagh two weeks ago when the Munster side claimed their final spot. And his team caps throughout the campaign indicated he was serious from the start this year.

Unlike other first-year managers in 2022, O’Connor didn’t need any rebuilding work. Instead, he inherited a “championship ready” squad, with the majority of the components needed to win an All-Ireland title. His mandate is simple: to bring this group across the line and end an eight-year wait for glory for all Ireland.

Mayo looking to end the spring campaign on a high

Kerry’s Sunday afternoon opponents know all about the droughts across Ireland. Although most Mayoers laugh at Kerry who has been impatient with their lack of success since 2014.

James Horan used the National League to build his panel. He knows more than anyone about the value of depth. Mayo has been hit with cruel beatings in recent years. But despite such absences, accompanied by a series of withdrawals, Westerners remained competitive at the highest level.

In recent weeks they have lost Tommy Conroy for the season, while Brendan Harrison was stretched out against Kildare last Sunday.

Nevertheless, the return of Jason Doherty was a boost, while there was little clarity around Cillian O’Connor. The Championship’s all-time top scorer hasn’t played since a 2021 Championship meeting with Clare, but James Horan said in February the ballintubber marksman would certainly see action during the Championship campaign.

Every time he returns to action, Mayo will boast a greater scoring threat.

Cillian O'Connor hasn't played since last June, after suffering an Achilles tendon injury

Cillian O’Connor hasn’t played since last June, after suffering an Achilles tendon injury

Whatever the outcome, Horan will know bigger games lie ahead. Following their National League final win over Kerry three years ago, Mayo was brought down to earth with a shock loss to Roscommon in the Connacht semi-final.

The importance of the imminent Championship opener against Galway cannot be underestimated. With Division 3 and 4 teams not entering qualifying this summer, the backdoor will be fraught with difficulty. Even for a side with Mayo’s impressive qualifying record, the direct route is paramount this summer.

Nonetheless, a win over the All-Ireland favorites on Sunday afternoon would provide a significant rebound.

Neither team would ever turn down a national title on Sunday afternoon. And that was proving a major statement of intent.

But ultimately, these two teams will be defined by what happens this summer.

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