One of the best lines I have read all week about the massively anticipated All-Ireland football final replay this Saturday was by one of my favourite wordsmiths, Keith Duggan, from The Irish Times stable.
Its simplicity struck a chord, and should resonate with us all. “We don’t know what is going to happen. How can we?” And he is correct. We all have our theories, however, after the crazy roller-coaster of a game from last Sunday week, how can anybody state anything with total precision. Nobody can be certain, or say 100 per cent as to whether it will be Cillian O’Connor or Stephen Cluxton who will hoist the canister skywards at around 6.30pm this Saturday evening. And that is the beauty of sport.
Marvellous rivalry between Dublin and Mayo
We have all heard about the memorable rivalry that existed between Dublin and Kerry in the seventies and now Mayo and Dublin have created their own enthralling chapter over the past 10 years in the annals of Gaelic football.
From back in 2006 in the All-Ireland semi-final, when Mayo defeated Dublin by a single point, 1-16 to 2-12, with Alan Dillon, Conor Mortimer and Andy Moran hitting a combined 1-09, up until the drawn game this season, we have had some genuine epics.
However, despite Mayo having recorded some magnificent successes, one key fact cannot be ignored. Dublin have three All-Ireland titles since 2011 and this Mayo squad are still searching for a first. To win this one the entire Mayo squad must have an unshakable, unquenchable, belief that they will do the business on Saturday when the chips are on the table. They do not have to play out of their skins, they do not have to do anything unbelievable, they just have to go out individually, and collectively, and get the job done.
When Corofin won the All-Ireland club title back in 1998, we were under a fair bit of pressure to deliver a title, as no Connacht club had ever done so previously and we had been beaten in two All-Ireland club semi-finals prior to that final.
Our mantra coming up to the final with Dublin’s Erin’s Isle, who had big names in the likes of Keith and Johnny Barr and Mick Deegan, was to “smash and grab”. We did not care how we performed once we got the job done. We just wanted to get up to Croke Park, produce a winning performance, sneak a win and get the hell out of Dodge. We did not care if the score-line was 0-5 to 0-4, once we had the five. That should be Mayo’s attitude this Saturday too. Travel up to the Big Smoke, smash and grab, eke out a win, and hightail it west with the trophy. Just get the job done. End of.
While it is an All-Ireland final, the fact is that it is just another game. Another pitch with whitewash and two posts at either end and the team that scores the most always wins. When you strip away all the glamour, the hype, and the venue, that is what you are left with. It could be McHale Park, Westport, Crossmolina, Ballintubber, Breaffy, or Belmullet, there is a game of football to be won. Focus on the performance and the result will take care of itself.
Keep it simple stupid
The well-known Mayo scribe, truth-seeker, and member of the current Mayo backroom team, Liam Horan, told me once that the secret of journalism was KISS – keep it simple stupid. And the secret for Mayo to win this 70 minutes of Gaelic football on Saturday evening is to keep is simple too, and do the right thing in possession all the time.
They would be champions already only for some very poor turnovers (21 in total ) in the drawn game. Their use of possession at key stages was not of a high enough quality to win with Seamus O’Shea an example of someone who really needs to just link play simply, but effectively, and avoid trying to thread the ball through a sea of blue jerseys. Mayo defended superbly for long stages the last day and they will need to do so again for the full 70 minutes, especially with Dublin likely to change things up a bit and perhaps keep the likes of Kevin McManamon in reserve as a game changer in the second half. The Mayo defenders know his quality off the bench as he scored 1-1 in both games last year when he was introduced for Dean Rock on both occasions and had a massive impact.
Will forewarned be forearmed this time?
Calling a winner is not easy and most pundits seem to be going with the outlook that Mayo have missed the boat. I am not convinced. There was something about Mayo the last day — they just would not go away. Five points down at half-time. Three points down going into injury time, and a blatant pick up by Denis Bastick at the death not whistled up by Conor Lane. If Mayo can bring the same measured intensity for the full 70 minutes, allied to consistently better use of possession, then I believe they can do the business and get over the end line as winners. The smash and grab is most definitely on. Their time is now.