During the second half of Mayo’s recent victory over Dublin, I wondered if some of the Mayo boys were tightening up ever so slightly with the winning post in sight. Did they go into their shell when absolutely cruising with a 10 point lead? Was it fatigue? Were they fit enough? I can’t recall any Dublin player requiring treatment for cramp? Or was this simply an example of a smart Mayo side working the system to get to the final? After watching the game later that night it seemed that Dublin simply threw caution to the wind when they realised that they were being absolutely hammered by their opponents. The Monday morning papers were not going to spare them and so they more or less played with a reckless abandon and were lucky with a few breaks around the middle of the field which they were able to capitalise on with scores. But are we sure? And that’s the fundamental question which means that there is still a little question mark over Mayo heading into next weekend’s final.
I read somewhere Keith Higgins’ suggestion that there was no tightening up, just that Dublin had their period of dominance in a 20 minute spell, whereas Mayo had theirs for a full 50 minutes. It is a little bit of a mystery to me, this ebb and flow phenomenon whereby one team is so completely dominant and then the goes flat while the other side hits a hot streak and takes over.
Good starts have been Mayo’s key ingredient
But the good thing from a Mayo perspective is that it was they who took the initiative, setting the tone for the game, getting the game on their terms. They were out of the blocks early (the nervous period ) and played their best football in the first 50 minutes. And, in many ways, the later period of dominance by Dublin was a good thing, as it ensures that no one is getting carried away prior to this year’s title decider. Heretofore, we have witnessed lots of cold starts from Mayo where the opposition were the ones who dictated the agenda and pattern of play while Mayo were left chasing the game. Mayo’s football in the opening period of the semi-final was almost flawless with scores magnificently constructed, brilliant sharp movement from all the forwards, precision long foot passing and delightful composed finishing. There was, unquestionably, a new air of confidence permeating right throughout the side. This was fairy-tale football with an exhibition of all the delightful things you could hope to see from the team you support. It was a ruthless positive performance that has left us with so much to look forward to on Sunday week.
Low key build up is good to see
I am enormously impressed with the build-up to this final from a Mayo perspective. I have not witnessed any of the madness that we have seen before previous finals. Cows are left to graze in their natural birth colours. The X- Factor has catered for those with notions of grandeur in the singing stakes and, thankfully, sheep are chomping the hills in their normal white coats. We appear to have matured as supporters, hardened I suppose from previous final experiences. This time round our emotional investment should be held until after the final. If Mayo prevail, then it will be time to party. And another thing, I don’t think we will have too many of the current crop of Mayo players dying their hair or changing their boot colour for the game. Yes, it is the perfect build up, and the Mayo management will be thrilled with that. Not so in Donegal. Apparently follower are gone a little crazy in the hills. I believe there were approximately 6,000 supporters at their ‘open’ day last Saturday. This obviously is terrific from a PR perspective and will do lots for the promotion of Gaelic football within the county, but from Jim McGuinness’ perspective, it is definitely something he could do without. All managers in this position would prefer things to be as normal as possible. We heard last week about the furore over the homecoming in Donegal. This week apparently the scramble is on for tickets for the winning function at the Burlington hotel on the Sunday night. All this stuff is a manager’s nightmare and yet it is entirely out of his control. Incidentally I have yet to speak to a Donegal person who doesn’t believe that Donegal will win the final.
Mayo players can and should improve in the final
Looking at the final from another angle, I wonder if the unwavering conviction from Donegal that we have witnessed throughout this year’s championship, particularly in their victories over Kerry and Cork, might not be as strong for the final. Have Donegal played their best football in those two games? I don’t think there is much room for improvement in their game whereas I believe Mayo’s victory over Dublin will do lots for the confidence of the team and I believe they can and should improve. Finals can do strange things to players when the real pressure to deliver is presented for the first time. There is nothing that comes close to the pressure of trying to win an All-Ireland. Certain players can use the occasion and the pressure to deliver big performances, others can crumble. Mayo appear to be very well prepared psychologically by Ciaran Shannon over the last two years, and I don’t expect to see frailties from any Mayo player in the crucial ‘head’ department. Also we must remember there were times in the Ulster championship when Donegal looked quite ordinary, when their build-ups were quite tentative and laboured. There were many times when some of their players struggled with form. For example big Michael Murphy struggled to get moving in a couple of games this year. If Mayo can force Donegal to move the ball laterally it will allow Mayo defenders a few vital seconds to get their own defensive system set up.