All-Ireland final fever is here. I still have to pinch myself to contemplate that Mayo are back in the football showpiece again. Looking at Mayo's run to the final you'd almost forget that it started against Sligo in Castlebar on May 21. The ticket fiasco is still the same, however, with most Mayo folk willing to beg, borrow, or steal to get their hands on that elusive golden ticket. Some novel efforts took to Tinder looking for a female acquaintance, the only catch was they had to have a spare ticket for the game. The most desperate are offering their spouses in return for a match day pass, it's all part of the fun, it's all part of the build up.
The serious stuff starts at 3.30pm on Sunday where Mayo take on the all conquering Dubs in a repeat of last year's final. This will be Mayo's seventh game against the Dubs in five years, they have all been nerve racking, they have all left me breathless, they have all gone to the wire. I expect Sunday to be no different.
Dublin by numbers
The general consensus from the optimistic Mayo supporter is that Mayo have a great chance as they are battle hardened, having played in some nail biting games through this championship, while the Dubs have simply breezed their way into this All-Ireland final untested. I have been at three Dublin games this summer and they have been exceptional on every occasion. It seems to be a moral victory for anyone to not lose by double digits to the three-in-a-row chasing Dubs; Kildare the only ones to achieve that feat. Believe it or not, Carlow are the one team that frustrated the life out of Dublin for the longest period of time holding the much feared Dublin starting six to only two points from play. They still cruised to a 12 point victory. The ease with which they dispatched Westmeath by a massive 31 points and up and coming Kildare by nine points left the rest of the country in awe. A late Paddy Brophy goal for Kildare the only goal Dublin have conceded in this year's championship. Con O'Callaghan announced himself on the national stage that afternoon scoring 12 points against the Lillywhites while Paul Mannion had the game of his life against Westmeath scoring eight points from eight shots taken. We expected Monaghan to cause Jim Gavin’s team some problems at least from a physical point of view but Dublin just brushed them aside winning by 10 points, Dean Rock helping himself to 1-08 in that game. The acid test was supposed to come from Tyrone in the semi final, nobody could have envisaged the final score in this one. Dublin blitzed the Ulster champions dishing out a proper hiding in what was a deplorable effort from Mickey Harte's team. Dublin's patience while attacking was a sight to behold. Dublin did as they pleased without a Tyrone player laying a hand on them. Tyrone was dispatched by 11 points. I expect it to be a totally different scenario on Sunday, Mayo won't stand off. In summary, Dublin have scored nine goals and 107 points in five games and only conceded one goal and 57 points in the process, that's a cumulative winning total of 74 points or an average of 14.8 points per game. Impressive no matter who the opponents were.
Mayo do it their way
While Dublin were crushing teams, Mayo were navigating their way through the most treacherous path ever taken by a Mayo team in pursuit of the Holy Grail — amazingly, getting a new lease of life on the August Bank Holiday Monday in a quarter final replay against Roscommon. Where this renewed energy came from is anybody’s guess and is the stuff of legends. They will need to produce something out of the ordinary to beat Dublin, that's a given, go further than they have ever gone before, dig into the reserves more than they have ever done before. This Mayo team is capable of anything!
How Mayo handle the restarts from the Dublin kick out is likely to have a big bearing on the outcome. Giving up possession is dicing with death, the most significant improvement Dublin have made over the years is their patience; patience in waiting for the right time to execute the shot. It was a master class showing against Tyrone who chased shadows, Mayo will get stuck into them and will pick and choose the times to press high up the field. You can be guaranteed every time Cillian O'Connor is on a placed ball Mayo will put on the squeeze. On the occasion that Cluxton picks out one of his defenders with a short kick out, I expect Mayo to go in hard and often, something none of Dublin's opponents have done to date. Philly McMahon, Johnny Cooper et al will not waltz out of their defence on Sunday. Cillian O'Connor, Jason Doherty and Andy Moran are not just there to put up scores, they will tackle like their lives depended on it.
I don't think Aidan O'Shea will find himself in the full forward line as some have speculated unless it's in the dying embers and we need a goal. We have been there and done that with O'Shea against Dublin in the past and they more than coped with his threat. He needs to be used as a wreaking ball, using his sizeable physique to telling effect smashing anything that moves. There are so many talking points, so many sideshows. It’s going to be a fascinating battle and we just crave one more Herculean effort to win that elusive All-Ireland.
Please God. PS Any spare tickets?