What a mouth watering clash we have in prospect for Sunday. Some of the biggest names in planet GAA competing against each other. We can now definitely say the three best teams in the country are left in the race for Sam Maguire, no one can argue against that. Kerry did all they had to do to get by Tyrone and reach another final but Sunday’s clash between Mayo and Dublin is the one we have been waiting for. The games against Dublin are incomparable especially at championship level. People all around lose the run of themselves. Croke Park is a cauldron of unimaginable noise, even deafening while wearing a headset and on radio duty. The league game in McHale Park this year between the two sides almost attracted a crowd of 16, 000, the likes of which I have never seen before for such an early season clash, which is where I am going to start. Dublin came into that game on a serious losing streak and in relegation trouble, Mayo were on the crest of a wave. All Dublin folk will tell you that game was the turning point in their season; they gave Mayo a right trimming winning by 2-18 to 0-10 that evening and went on to comfortably win the league thereafter. They have since won nine games on the spin.
Making the match ups
I am sure Noel and Pat will have watched that game a few times to sort out match ups and a defensive formation as we were run ragged that same evening. The moral of the story is if you try to defend against a team with as prolific forwards as the Dubs have in a one on one situation they will terrorise you as they did to Mayo in that league encounter. Any half decent forward who wins possession ahead of his man will relish a one on one. Hats off to Noel and Pat for their shrewdness to place Barry Moran on the edge of the square to thwart the aerial threat of Michael Murphy against Donegal, more impressive was the fact that it was kept so quiet. I am not sure Moran will be suited to playing the same role against Dublin on Sunday however as a different type of player is needed to assist the defence. Someone with serious mobility and awareness as to where they see the imminent danger and try to cut it out fast is what is needed this time around. While the team was named on Wednesday night with Moran in it, he will consider himself very unlucky if he does not make the cut for Sunday come 3.30pm, especially after being selected on the GAA team of the week after the Donegal game but as they say “it's horses for courses”.
Who knows Mayo may even go for a three pronged midfield? It will be intriguing to see what tactic will be used for Sunday. Surely Diarmuid O'Connor or Kevin McLoughlin or the very hard working Jason Doherty will be used as defensive cover. It has been widely known that Stephen Cluxton has been the catalyst for many Dublin attacks with his radar like kick outs, but we have been warned time and time again and still he seems to be able to put us on the back foot. I have recurring dreams of the whole Dublin team sprinting to the Hogan Stand side of Croke Park for a Cluxton kick out and Cian O'Sullivan heading in the opposite direction gazelle like to catch the kick uncontested on the Cusack Stand sideline. In such circumstances the Mayo players should mark zones rather than individuals, stay and guard your patch rather than be fooled by the dummy runs.
If Mayo can make Cluxton fire the ball out around the middle, the current form of Seamie O'Shea, Tom Parsons, and I am sure at some stage Barry Moran should see us break at least even in that sector. I am of the opinion Jim Gavin has not been selecting Michael Darragh McCauley at midfield for a very obvious reason, to unleash him against Mayo. Otherwise it must be very frustrating for the 2013 footballer of the year to be third choice midfield when you were the best player in the country two short years ago. There are so many key battles all over the field but Mayo’s ability to negate the influence of Dublin’s lethal half forward line and get bodies in the way of the probing runs from deep from the likes of Jack McCaffrey and James McCarthy are the key components to winning the game. Paul Flynn has had a relatively quiet season by his standards but the four-in-a-row All-Star winner has the ability to flick the switch and Donie Vaughan will have to be at his brilliant best to match him (if Vaughan gets a black card by the way and Mayo win he misses the final ) it seems to be an almost nailed cert that Lee Keegan will be given the unenviable job of curtailing Diarmuid Connolly. Here is the conundrum, does Keegan sacrifice his attacking game to curtail Connolly or simply make Connolly retreat towards his own goal, and it is going to be fascinating to see how it pans out.
Meeting some old foes
Keith Higgins will renew acquaintances with Bernard Brogan, another key duel. Out of Jason Doherty, Diarmuid O'Connor, and Kevin McLoughlin one will be given the sweeper's job while the others will have to keep tabs on McCarthy and McCaffrey along with getting the supply into O'Shea and co, needless to say they will have covered some ground by 5pm on Sunday. Jim Gavin will also have to do his own worrying about the power of Aidan O'Shea on the edge of the square, and I hope Cillian O'Connor is at the peak of his powers because he needs to be for us to win. I have tipped Dublin since day dot to win the All-Ireland; if they do not it will be the team that beats them. Let’s hope it is the Saw Doctors bellowing over the tannoy in Croke Park after the game and not 'Molly Malone'. This is a must not miss encounter.
A tragic loss of Mayo hero
It was with great sadness I heard of the passing of Mayo All-Ireland minor winner Darragh Doherty from Kilmaine last Sunday night following a tragic traffic accident. My sympathies to his family, friends and his club.