It’s game eight of Mayo’s 2016 championship campaign and the biggest one of all, the All-Ireland final against the reining champions and hot favourites Dublin. Mayo are priced at 3/1, the Dubs are 4/11 while the draw is available at 10/1. In layman’s terms the bookmakers don’t see Dublin been beaten. The handicap betting is set at -3 points meaning the expert odd makers feel Dublin will win by about three.
I’m travelling up Sunday more in hope than expectation. This is our eighth final (ninth counting the 1996 replay ) since 1989 and we have left heartbroken on every occasion. This year I’m taking the realists approach, we are not expected to win, we are playing against one of the greatest teams of all time and should we get a result it will surpass anything I’ve experienced in sport before, but I’m keeping it real this time, it’s a bonus been in the final considering how our year started.
You have to give tremendous credit to this current bunch of players who come back year after year despite so much heartbreak, If Mayo put in a nine out of ten performance on Sunday they are still not guaranteed to leave with Sam McGuire, that is the level of the task they are facing. My hope is that we are still in the game in the final stretch and who knows what will happen. I have been at three Dublin games in the flesh this year and have been nothing but impressed, they cantered to victory in all their games in Leinster, were made work a little by Donegal in the 1/4 final and certainly Kerry made them go up another gear in that epic semi final but they responded in kind under enormous pressure and five points down at half time in that game.
The one area where I feel Mayo have had an advantage on them is in the team selection. Mayo have started 24 different players through this years championship compared to Dublin’s 19 and right now, long in advance of any team been named I can tell you the Dublin team that started the semi final is the one that will start the final, barring injury of course. The only personnel changes they have made through this years campaign have been when Paul Mannion started against Laois for injured Paul Flynn, Eric Lowndes and Paddy Andrews have replaced the injured James McCarty for two games and Denis Bastik and Michael Darragh McCauley have traded places on two occasions. That has given the Mayo management a definite advantage on planning tactically. I’d hardly expect Jim Gavin to drop out of form and darling of the Hill, Bernard Brogan for Paddy Andrews for final day. Would he dare? Brogan loves playing against Mayo, then again so does Andrews,Kevin McManamon and Eoghan O’Gara.
Getting our line up right
Picking the Mayo 15 is not so simple. There are numerous different scenarios that could occur, too many to go through. It will surely be a man for man defensive structure with Kevin Mcloughlin utilised as a sweeper as he has been all year which should suggest Barry Moran will be kept in reserves. Moran done very well against a big Tipperary inside forward line and had Kerry been the opponents on Sunday, I feel he’d have got the same role. Lee Keegan will renew acquaintances with Diarmuid Connolly, while Colm Boyle will probably pick up Ciaran Kilkenny. The conundrum for Rochford is who picks up Paul Flynn (who’s having a poor season by his standards ) for the Dublin kick outs, Donal Vaughan is physically the most suited to contest with Flynn in the air but if selected at midfield, that duty may be left to Paddy Durcan.
This brings me to the next crucial event likely to have a big bearing on the result, the Dublin kick out. There are times to push up on Cluxton’s kick out and there are times not to, it’s critical the players on the field are in harmony when deciding what to do otherwise a few players will expend a lot of unnecessary energy chasing shadows. Cluxton takes an average of six to seven seconds between an opponents shot and taking his kick out. If Mayo have ample numbers in attack when the shot is taken, that is the time to press as Kerry did in the second quarter in their semi final and Cluxton lost his composure.
Work, work and more work
However if Mayo have players like Jason Doherty and Diarmuid O’Connor or any other forwards in defensive positions and happen to get a shot off in a quick counter attack, that is the time to simply let Dublin have their kick out as Mayo will simply not have enough players high up the field to execute the full press. Getting this right in the white heat of battle is easier said than done, players just need to be aware of their surroundings and be harmonious in their decisions. The midfield slots could be given to any two of four. McCauley and Fenton are ball players and supreme athletes which would suit Tom Parsons athleticism. It’s anyone’s guess who gets in there.
Alan Dillon was very effective in the first half against Tyrone when his marker Justin McMahon dropped deep as a sweeper as Cian O’Sullivan will do for the Dubs so do not rule out an inclusion for him. Either way I take no heed of the teams both managers name as they will probably not be the teams that start. Mayo have to harness all the dominant 10 minute spells from their previous seven games into one gigantic effort for 75 minutes of war and see where it takes us. The excitement is enormous. I live in hope.