Mayo stand on the edge of greatness

GAA: All Ireland SFC Final - Preview

Passing on instructions: Stephen Rochford is ready to take on the challenge of beating Dublin on Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile

Passing on instructions: Stephen Rochford is ready to take on the challenge of beating Dublin on Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile

Come 5pm on Sunday evening, Mayo's 10 game odyssey through the All Ireland championship will have come to an end (but don't discount a replay - the way this year has gone ). Hopefully green and red ribbons will be hanging off the handles of Sam Maguire, and Cillian O'Connor getting ready to lift the old trophy high in the air in the hands of a Mayo man for the first time in 66 years.

Standing in their way, as for their last two shots of glory, are a Dublin side that have been name-checked as one of the greatest teams to ever play the game by some pundits. The Dubs are looking to become the first side to complete a three-in-a-row since the Kerry team of 1984 to 1987. Over the past few years nobody has come as close to stopping the capital's machine as Mayo taking them to a replay in last year's final and another two part dual at the semi-final stage in 2015.

Stephen Rochford has proved himself to be a man who is not afraid to take a chance when he thinks it's the right call for the team, most recently his placing of Aidan O'Shea at full-back against Kerry in the semi-final and last year changing goalkeeper for the final replay against Dublin. The Crossmolina man explained to the Mayo Advertiser that those decisions weren't taken lightly, but were made to try and win the game. "You know, the reason that we are in the job is to help and try and get the team to win the games. Some people will categorise them as big calls but we categorise them as being the right calls. People may think, like, God above, you didn't win the All Ireland because you made a change of the goalkeeper, but because we didn't win the All Ireland didn't come down to a mistake by one player on the field, there is an awful lot more going into that. It might suit the narrative to say the manager did this or that, but, look, you can't change it, people will say what people want to say and we've tried to remain focused on getting the team in the best shape to play the best football."

Having everyone know that no place is nailed on makes it imperative that everyone buys into the management's plans and not let it affect the group, and that's the way it is, says Rochford. "Look, you know, the team - they have to be supportive of what we do, they are supportive of what we do and I don't think you'd come through a nine game challenge if you don't have a unified and united group."

The last few weeks will have been the longest period that Mayo have gone without a game since they stepped into the qualifier pool of sides back on July 1, and while Mayo were used to going at it hard week on week, the break is a welcome one, according to the All Ireland club winning player and manager. "Three weeks is a good break after having nine games in a 12 week period, it allows us to take lads down and mentally refresh. People think the boys are mentally tired and we give ourselves that bit of time around preparing for the challenges that Dublin bring. They won't be challenges that we have come up against with any other team in that bit of extra time. But for us it's probably only an extra training session."

Mayo find themselves in the same similar situation they were in this time last year, coming through the backdoor to the final after a disappointing exit in the Connacht Championship. When asked if they had been able to learn more ahead of the final this year after taking a similar route last year, Rochford told us: "I wouldn't say it's different, we're more experienced in management, we know the team a little bit longer and we feel we're going into this game with better football confidence and belief that we can go in there and compete and win this game at a high level. Our aim is to go to each game and win an All Ireland, we fell short and our aim is to go in and be competitive and win the game on September 17 and win the game again."

As for enjoying the few weeks in the build-up to the game he said: "In some ways you try to enjoy it, it's a very exciting time, there is plenty of work to get done, but you try and maintain a freshness because the management need to be every bit as fresh as the players going into a big game like this."

Will there be a surprise up the Mayo management's sleeve ahead of throw in on Sunday? We'll all find out not long before 3.30pm on Sunday afternoon.


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