comment As big guns assemble for Sam tilt, here are my final predictions for all four Allianz Football League divisions
In Kerry we don’t normally celebrate anything we achieve in football before St Patrick’s Day.
However, there is no getting away from the fact that the one-point win over Mayo in Tralee last weekend was seen as a watershed moment.
Finally, Kerry prevailed in a tight finish.
Getting beaten at the death has become a recurring theme in the Kingdom’s recent history.
Kerry supporters with a weak constitution might want to skip the next few paragraphs.
Take this catalogue of narrow defeats and draws.
Lost by three and two points respectively in the 2015 All-Ireland final and 2016 semi-final to Dublin.
Beaten by five points by Mayo in the 2017 semi-final in a replay.
Drew with Monaghan and lost to Galway by three points in the 2018 Super 8s.
A two-point loss in extra time – after conceding a last-gasp goal – to Cork in the 2020 Munster semi-final
And a one-point defeat after extra time to Tyrone in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
But it’s what happened at the business end of the 2019 drawn final against Dublin which haunts every Kerry fan.
With 11 minutes left, Kerry went one point up against 14-man Dublin.
Not alone did they fail to score for the remainder of the game; they didn’t even have a shot at goal.
Believe it or not, they never even kicked the ball over the halfway line.
They carried the ball into the Dublin half three times and got turned over each time. It is still painful to think about.
In this year’s league they squandered a three-point lead in Newbridge and the game finished level.
Again, they squandered a three-point advantage against Mayo last weekend. This time they redeemed themselves with David Clifford’s free in the sixth minute of injury time.
No wonder Jack O’Connor was so happy after the game.
With the league drawing to a close, my list of realistic contenders for the All-Ireland remains unchanged. It is still Kerry, Dublin, Mayo and Tyrone.
Mayo are the odd county out in this quartet, having not won an All-Ireland since 1951. The others have all tasted success in the last ten years.
So, what are the chances of Mayo finally getting over the finish line in four months’ time?
They tick all the boxes in terms of physicality, athleticism and warrior-like spirit.
James Horan has used 31 players in the league and introduced a lot of promising newcomers.
As ever, the issue is whether they have enough marquee forwards.
They lost last year’s final to Tyrone because the conversion rate from their forwards in open play was 37 per cent.
Against Kerry their starting forwards scored 0-4, compared to 1-7 from their Kerry counterparts.
Even though Ryan O’Donoghue has been a revelation, they don’t have enough top-notch forwards.
Imagine how much more effective they would be if they had a target man on the edge of the square that O’Donoghue and Cillian O’Connor, when he returns, could play off.
Meanwhile, here are my predictions for how the four divisions in the league will pan out.
DIVISION 1: Final – Kerry v Mayo. Relegated – Kildare and Tyrone.
DIVISION 2: Promoted – Galway and Derry. Relegated – Cork and Down. However, If Galway win today they might field a weakened team against Roscommon in the final round, which could be significant.
DIVISION 3: Promoted – Antrim and Westmeath. Relegated – Wicklow and Longford. Depending on today’s results, Antrim and Westmeath might each need one point to secure promotion. Guess what? They are playing each other in round seven.
DIVISION 4: Promoted – Cavan and Tipperary
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