What a year we've had and there's more twists and turns to come

Opinion: Casey's Call

The new normal: Mayo coach Ciaran McDonald and Mayo captain Aidan O'Shea masked up ahead of a game during the Connacht Senior Football Championship. Photo: Sportsfile.

The new normal: Mayo coach Ciaran McDonald and Mayo captain Aidan O'Shea masked up ahead of a game during the Connacht Senior Football Championship. Photo: Sportsfile.

2020 has been a year like no other. A lot has happened since I was on these pages.

On top of having to deal with a number of lockdowns and all the negative aspects that go with the Coronavirus, 2020 has been more than forgettable.

The murder of my good friend and former team mate Colm Horkan last June is still so difficult for us to come to terms with. I'm still expecting to wake from the nightmare. It will take us folk in Charlestown and beyond decades to get over what happened to Colm, if ever.

Sport is a great antidote, the GAA and particularly football has been a great distraction for us. A real mind bender if you like, something to sway our minds from the grim reality.

The Horkan family are all GAA fanatics, as was Colm. Mayo's run to the All-Ireland semi final on Sunday will have been a welcome distraction for everyone, to take their minds off reality, albeit for only seventy plus minutes at a time. The games coming thick and fast have become compulsive viewing for many and a saviour for our health and well being.

When the country went into lockdown in March and all GAA was cancelled/postponed, I was secretly delighted, because Mayo were knee deep in relegation and I thought with hopefully the cancellation of the league, Mayo would maintain their proud status in division one.

Back on the road

As it transpired, the league resumed 33 weeks later and Mayo were relegated, losing to Tyrone on the final day of the league in October. That was a major setback considering the performance the previous week in Tuam where Mayo put in a 10 star performance, defeating the tribesmen on a scoreline of 3-23 to 0-17.

Immediately after that heroic performance in Tuam, Mayo were considered to be Dublin’s only threat for the six in a row. Fast forward a week later, after the performance against Tyrone and Mayo were canon fodder again. As the saying goes “you're only as good as your last game”.

If you were to take yourself back to the day, Thursday, March 12, when the decision was made to cease all matters GAA and say to me, Yes Mayo are going to get relegated from Division 1 but they're going to be Connaught Champions and face Tipperary in a semi final for a place in an Ireland final, I first of all would have sought urgent medical help for you; and secondly, I would have taken that scenario all day long. Amazingly that is now where we find ourselves.

Mayo making moves

After a controlled performance against Leitrim and an impressive statement of intent against Roscommon in the championship where Mayo completely out-muscled and outplayed the Rossies on their home patch, Mayo staggered over the line against Galway in the Connaught final to welcome back the Nestor cup for the first time since 2015, which was long overdue.

Mayo's 0-14 to 0-13 win in Salthill was far from convincing. It looked like Mayo were going to beat Galway down the prom at the start but as only Mayo know how, we kept Galway in touch with poor execution and lots of unforced errors. It was still great to see it out and watch Aiden O Shea lift the Nestor cup. Let's not forget, a lot of Mayo players were getting their hands on a Connacht senior medal for the first time.

Mayo by a country mile have blooded the most players in this winter Championship. Eight in total have made their Championship bows, which is a staggering amount really. Truth be told, had the championship gone ahead when it was supposed to in the summer, that figure would be halved.

The postponement certainly suited some and not others. It can only make for a healthy training scenario when you have seasoned campaigners like Tom Parsons, Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle and Seamie O'Shea, to name four, fighting for a place on the bench.

You can't take your eye off the ball or you'll get caught

We thought Tipperary’s brilliant win over Cork in the Munster final was going to be the highlight/shock of the championship, but less than 2.5 hours later, Cavan went out and surpassed it, beating an unbackable Donegal in the Ulster final (Donegal of course were then the only team capable of beating Dublin, remember that? ). That's what happens when you take your eye off the ball and is a proper red flag for any Mayo player/ supporter that thinks Sunday's outcome is a forgone conclusion. It's far from it.

Do I expect Mayo to win? Yes I do, but not without a significant dogfight. Mayo have been forewarned, Cork and Donegal were not. The significance of the bloody Sunday 100th anniversary and having Michael Hogan's image emblazoned on their jerseys to mark the occasion, certainly inspired Tipperary.

In fact, having the same four teams meeting in the semi finals this year as they did 100 years ago is a truly remarkable coincidence, when you consider that Tipperary and especially Cavan were rank outsiders in their Provincial finals. Football works in funny ways, Tipp should have lost against Limerick in the Munster semi final; referee Maurice Deegan missing a clear cut pull back on a limerick forward for a definite Limerick penalty that would have put Limerick out of sight had it been dispatched. As long as complacency doesn't creep into the Mayo camp, you feel we will have too much experience for Tipp.

Toppeling Tipp

If you tie down Conor Sweeney and Michael Quinlivan you go a long way to beating Tipp. I didn't expect Sydney Swans player Colin O'Riordan to have such an impact either.

It was like he was never away from the game and now I can see why there was so much fuss to get him to play. Mattie Ruane and Conor Loftus will have their hands full with the physically imposing Tipperary midfield pairing where O'Riordan will also be hovering.

Back up from the bench could be crucial in this sector on Sunday for Mayo. I expect Mayo to win by four and as many have suggested to me the booby prize for the winners is a meeting with the Dubs, who will probably beat Cavan by 20+ points. It's great to have the games to be looking forward to.


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