The Greatest Show on Earth rolls into town

GAA: All Ireland Senior Football Championship

On the run: Kevin McLoughlin looks to escape Michael Murphy. Photo: Sportsfile

On the run: Kevin McLoughlin looks to escape Michael Murphy. Photo: Sportsfile

The Greatest Show on Earth - was the tag line used by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for 146 years until it shut up shop two years ago and Cecil B. DeMille's 1952 movie about the same institution starring Charlton Heston picked up two Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture.

But in these parts The Greatest Show on Earth is something very different and that circus is coming to town on Saturday evening and the sold-out signs have gone up well in advance.

Tomorrow evening's clash between Mayo and Donegal has plenty of the elements that kept the aforementioned circus in business for so long - big beasts will look to dominate the proceedings - with Aidan O'Shea and Michael Murphy being two of the biggest and best in the business. High flying and speedy racers like Ryan McHugh and Kevin McLoughlin will be key to their sides' prospects and there will be a few old-fashioned strong men ready to show their substance, with Colm Boyle and Neill McGee two of the toughest and baddest around.

The game has everything riding on it for the season for Mayo - it's win or bust. When their backs have been against the wall, this Mayo team have put in some of their biggest and best performances in recent years. You don't have to look too far into the past to remember a recent clash between these two teams when Mayo delivered when they needed to.

In MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey in March 2018, Mayo needed at least a point to maintain their division one status and they did just that. Kevin McLoughlin may have taken more steps than Jacob Stockdale needed to get over to score his try against New Zeland for Ireland later that Autumn to slot over his injury time leveller - but Mayo got the result that mattered at the end of day, following an afternoon where Mayo were outplayed for long periods - and there were plenty of times through the years that Mayo had been on the other foot, being the better side and not getting the result.

Tomorrow's game has plenty of extra intrigue with the man who was wearing the Banisteoir bib that day for Mayo - now being part of the Donegal set up. This time last year Stephen Rochford was planning on staying on with Mayo - but then that all fell apart in August. While nobody expected the Crossmolina native to be out of the game for long, his addition to the Donegal backroom team did catch all by surprise and there has been nothing but good things coming out of that camp in relation to his input to their success this season.

Apart from the current occupant of the manager's hot seat - not many know this current Mayo set-up as well as their strengths and weaknesses - as Rochford does - along with both his and James Horan's former lieutenant Donie Buckley, who has decamped to his native Kerry this year and has already been involved in a devastating victory over the green and red at the start of the Super 8s.

The 2012 All Ireland final will still be a fresh memory for many of the biggest meeting between these teams in recent years. Things haven't changed that much for Mayo - if you look at the side who took to the field against Meath a fortnight ago. Eight of the players who started that final all started against Meath - that number would have been nine if Keith Higgins didn't have to miss the Royals clash through injury, while Seamus O'Shea came on as a sub in that 2012 final and was a starter against Meath.

The breakdown of the positioning of those still around is neatly broken down into one goalkeeper, three defenders, one midfielder and three forwards still forming the spine of Mayo's team. The eight to start both games were David Clarke, Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Donal Vaughan, Aidan O'Shea, Kevin McLoughlin, Jason Doherty and Cillian O'Connor. Mayo did avenge that defeat- sort of - in the 2014 and 2015 All Ireland quarter-finals - but the 2012 match still feels like the one that really got away for a large portion of this group of Mayo players.

Now it all hangs on Mayo's ability to cross the high-wire once again and with a packed house, home advantage and all to play for - you wouldn't put it past them to pull out another big one and keep the The Greatest Show on Earth running for another week at least - before seeing them pitch their wagons east towards Croke Park.


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