Looking for a Fairytale of Croke Park

GAA: Casey's Call

Getting to grips: Mayo will have to get to grips early with key Dublin players like Brian Fenton. Photo: Sportsfile

Getting to grips: Mayo will have to get to grips early with key Dublin players like Brian Fenton. Photo: Sportsfile

It's Christmas week. In normal circumstances we would be thinking about Santa Claus and Christmas parties. But these are not normal circumstances and we have the not so small matter of an All-Ireland senior football final to occupy ourselves. We will think about Christmas from around 7pm on Saturday evening.

Mayo face one of the most unenviable tasks in sport, trying to beat the unbeatable. Dublin are in that bracket and there is perfect reasoning why.

They are chasing an unprecedented six All-Irelands in a row. With the current demands and pressures on an inter county footballer, not too long ago I didn't think I'd see a team putting All-Irelands back-to-back again never mind going for six-in-a-row.

Dublin cantered into this final, barely breaking sweat. They dispatched Westmeath by 11, Laois by 22, Meath by 21 and Cavan by 15 in the All-Ireland semi final. Westmeath were given plenty of plaudits because they only lost by 11. After the other drubbings maybe they deserved them.

I have been at four Dublin games since football resumed and they have had different match winners on different days but there remains three constants. Stephen Cluxton, Brian Fenton and Ciaran Kilkenny are their most consistent and effective trilogy in 2020.

They have been superb in every game. We are all aware of how good Cluxton is from the restarts but when called upon he is top drawer when dealing with a high ball as he proved so many times against Cavan and his shot stopping is on a par with David Clarke's. He craves clean sheets and has yet to concede a goal in this years championship. He pulled off a brilliant save from Meath’s Joey Wallace when his team were mauling the Royals. He never lets his guard down.

The big conundrum facing James Horan and his management team is how aggressive they are to go after Cluxton's kick outs. It's a proven stat that the longer you are forced to kick the ball the lower the percentages become for ball retention. If you cough up possession easily as many teams are forced to do against Dublin, they are capable of stringing up to 50 passes together, while wearing you down at the same time before they get a shot off.

They never panic in possession and rarely take the wrong option. It's so frustrating for opponents. Mayo will have to be so clued in when Cluxton is in control of the ball. Brian Fenton is a sensational player, imagine he has never experienced losing a championship game, that’s some record. His ability to cover every inch of Croke Park is amazing. You'll find him tracking back while also contesting everything in the air and this year he is scoring heavy in every game. Mayo need to man mark him. Sacrifice someone in pursuit of stopping him controlling the game. Stephen Coen is a likely candidate for the job as his attributes are all about that aspect of the game but will Mayo want to disrupt their defence and move Coen out of there? I would.

Ciaran Kilkenny is slight favourite ahead of Fenton for the player of the year award and with good reason. His work rate and possession count is off the radar and like Fenton he is continuously working the umpires with his ability to get scores. 0-5 against Westmeath, 1-04 against Laois, 0-4 against Meath and 0-4 against Cavan is a big return from the centre forward and a measure of pure consistency. Does James Horan get Lee Keegan to track Kilkenny after the effective job he has done on him in the past? Or will Paddy Durcan be given the task?

The concern is, should you get to grips with those three you have the not so straight forward problems that Dean Rock, Con O'Callaghan, Sean Bugler, Paul Mannion, James McCarthy and Brian Howard may cause you. Dean Rock was none too pleased after being substituted against Laois and let his manager know the same when leaving the pitch. He responded in kind with two impressive outings against Meath and Cavan.

Mayo know anything that resembles our defensive performance against Tipp' and the game will be over by the first water break. Dublin will be far more efficient in front of goals than the Munster champions were. Mayo also need to be very aware of the high turnover rate of the Dublin forwards. They tackle like maniacs. It was very impressive to watch how they swarmed an opponent in packs against Cavan.

Cavan wing back Gerard Smith got caught several times. One player got him to turn back and there were two others there waiting to maul and dispossess him. Rock, Bugler and O'Callaghan work brilliantly as a trio doing this. Simple solution is head down and drive forward, no backward steps. In Oisin Mullin, Eoghan McLaughlin Paddy Durcan and Lee Keegan we have players with the pace to counteract that scenario.

I have been asked hundreds of times will we win? It's a classic case of head against heart. Mayo are overwhelming underdogs to beat Dublin. If I'm not mistaken Mayo were 4/1 to win Sam before we played Tipp, now we are 9/2. Odds are meant to draw in after winning a game not go out. That is an indication of the monumental job in hand. We will need an awful lot to go right and a few decisions to go our way.

An early aerial bombardment with Aidan O'Shea and Cillian O'Connor in beast mode and Tommy Conroy on fire hovering on loose ball. Poach an early goal or two and for Dublin to somehow have an off day.

This is what I have been day dreaming about for the last two weeks. We have a resilient group of Mayo players all very capable on their day.

Wouldn't it just be something for everything to click into place and every player to leave the hollowed turf having done all they were asked.

Our tackle count will have to be off the chart. Every other county in Ireland would love to be in our place, we will never be found out for want of trying. It will be weird not seeing the throngs of Mayo supporters along Jones road.

There will only be those of us from the Mayo media mafia present which will number about 15 I'm guessing. If Mayo do win, you will hear us and they'll have a job to stop me entering the pitch. We dare to dream, we live in hope.

 

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