Dreams are strange things - but we got our hands on the cup

GAA: All Ireland SFC Final - Casey's Call

Dreaming of success: John has dreamed that Mayo will win and so are their supporters. Photo: Sportsfile

Dreaming of success: John has dreamed that Mayo will win and so are their supporters. Photo: Sportsfile

I had a dream two weeks ago, that Mayo won the 2021 All-Ireland football final. It was a joyous but weird dream.

In it, I presented the Sam Maguire cup to Mayo captain David Heaney on the steps of the Hogan Stand. I was as proud as punch.

All the pain of defeats down the years suddenly disappeared. It helped that I was actually getting an All-Ireland medal as were all the soldiers that went so agonisingly close since 1989.

Don't ask me why 'Cellotape' as I affectionately called him (because he was sticky at training ) was the captain; dreams do weird things.

I can't recall who captained Mayo in all those All-Ireland finals in the noughties and 10's, but I do remember Jimmy Browne in 1989 and of course our skipper Noel Connelly in 1996 and 1997.. obviously. I was ecstatic, but I eventually woke only to realise it was a dream.

I did wonder why I wasn't giving the cup to Aidan O'Shea and to realise I hadn't actually won an All-Ireland medal was gutting. I was still trying to process how Mayo had defeated the Chicago Bulls in an All-Ireland final on sudden death free throws in Croke Park, when suddenly my kids stormed the room.

Dreams are hard to explain. The pain of our defeat to Meath 25 years ago still lives on obviously and recently, watching the Netflix documentary The Last dance, again, about the Bulls, was surely the reason we got the better of Michael Jordan and company in the final. I don't know where David Heaney came out of as captain as I've only met him a handful of times since our playing days. How I actually became the President of the GAA overnight is anybody’s guess.

Hand on heart this is the first time I will attend a final involving Mayo, as a spectator, nervously confident, 2012 included. I've been asked hundreds of times in the last two weeks would I have preferred if Mayo were playing Kerry instead of Tyrone in the final; the confused looks I received arose when I replied: "I'd prefer the Chicago Bulls, Is David Heaney fit to play?"

Despite reading so many experts' views on Mayo's opposition and why Kerry would have suited Mayo more, I'm glad Tyrone defeated Kerry and we are playing them instead.

No question, Kerry took their eye off the ball in their semi final. They thought it was a stroll to an easy All-Ireland after Mayo had done them a huge favour defeating Dublin.

For me, Kerry have a much better forward line and would relish a game where Mayo would try to go toe to toe with them. We must not forget Kerry played so poorly against Tyrone and only just lost after extra time. They would not have played so badly were they in the final, especially against Mayo.

The challenge facing Mayo is a momentous one. This task does not get any easier just because Dublin and Kerry are out of the picture.

Apart from having to perform to the very peak of their football powers from an ability and tactical viewpoint, the psychological side for me is a key element to getting over the line. Mayo players will tell you there is no baggage or burden of expectation - but unfortunately there is.

That is the first hurdle the players will need to cross. It's irking me a little that the attitude among some supporters is 'surely they'll win it this year'. That is a very dangerous mindset going into a game of any description, never mind the All-Ireland final. The second hurdle Mayo will have to deal with is what I will simply call - the Tyrone way.

Even experienced Mayo players like Lee Keegan and Aidan O'Shea will not have experienced what Tyrone will bring to the party on All-Ireland final day.

They will have some idea from encounters in the past like the quarter final in 2016 or even last year's division one relegation play-off in Castlebar, but on Saturday, Tyrone will bring it to a different level that a lot of our younger fledglings will not have experienced.

Tommy Conroy and Ryan O'Donoghue will be singled out for special attention, I have no doubt, two relative rookies who Tyrone may feel will be easy to get at.

After Limerick won the Hurling final so impressively, you regularly heard their Manager, John Kiely, mention Caroline Currid, the team psychologist and how she worked wonders with his team.

From what I gather, James Horan takes on this responsibility himself with the Mayo players and has one-on-one video calls with them to ensure their heads are in the right place. I’m assured he instills a great confidence in his players. Presumably he will have the team prepared for what they will encounter, both physically and verbally.

Whatever will be done or said to them will be designed to provoke a reaction, or simply put you off your game. The key is, stand your ground, do not bend but do not over-react, as hard as it might be.

This is where referee Joe McQuillan is key for me; he needs to stamp his authority early on in the game and cut out any nonsense from the get-go.

The somewhat unused term of late - 'sledging' - will be brought back in all its glory on Saturday, I fear. Absolutely anything and everything will be said to the Mayo players.

It's imperative that Mayo don't go behind entering the last 10 minutes or we will see the Tyrone way coming out in all its glory. Tactical fouling, killing the clock and sledging will be the order of the day.

This will only come to fruition if they go ahead entering the last quarter. This game will not be pretty, it will be a dogfight to the bitter end, a psychological war where the team that keeps their heads will end up victorious. Seventy years has been far too long to wait. The time has come to end the famine.


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