Marie Crowe: The dream All-Ireland final has arrived
THE dream final between Mayo and Dublin has arrived; two teams who play exciting and exhilarating football are contesting the biggest game of the year.
And although a lot of the talk in the lead up to the game has been focused on tickets or rather lack of tickets, the excitement has still been building steadily.
Just over a week ago I spent some time in Mayo as a tourist,within a couple of days I made my way around most of the county and unintentionally encountered a lot Mayo fans.
In most of the towns and villages I visited there was serious preparation for the final going on. The team’s loyal bands of followers were busy putting up bunting and flags, painting calves and penning songs about Sam. They were savouring the run up to the big game, their second in two years and sixth in 24 years. And although this time round the Mayo fans were trying to keep the hype to a minimum they couldn’t help themselves.
Before I visited Mayo I was pretty sure they wouldn’t be claiming the Sam Maguire this year but the lack of fear the people showed for the mighty Dubs gave me a different outlook on the game.
They weren’t worried about the attacking threat the 2011 All-Ireland champions possessed because their six backs are the best in the country. They couldn’t care less about Michael Darragh Macauley breaking the line all day long because the O’Shea brothers are well capable of taking care of him and as for the Dublin backs, well their forwards are going to exploit their weak spots.
And while I don’t think it will be as simple as that for Mayo I do believe they are capable of beating Dublin. All season long they have dismantled teams including Galway, Donegal and Tyrone and while a stumble, a fall and even an implosion had been expected they have impressively powered through without faltering.
Ok their star forward Cillian O’Connor is a doubt and that’s a worry but this Mayo team don’t rely on just one forward, that’s a thing of the past. Instead they share the scoring burden and even their backs frequently get on the board. This season Mayo have racked up 14-81, an impressive tally especially when compared to Dublin’s 11-87.
Dublin’s Ger Brennan has been touted as the weak link in the backs and that is not entirely accurate. He’s an All-Ireland medal winner with huge experience and his role as a general is often under valued. Albeit he had an off day against Kerry but so did several other Dublin players. He’s the organiser of the Dublin defence, the dictator and in ways the gel that holds them together. Without him there calling the shots the gaping holes often seen would be a lot bigger.
Although Mayo haven’t concerned themselves with other teams, instead opting to play their own game and focus on themselves, they will still have learned a lot about how to deal with the Dublin attack from watching other teams play against them.
They need to limit the impact of Diarmuid Connolly; if he gets a strong hold on the game he could blitz a team for seven or eight points as he can score off both feet. Bernard Brogan is showing flashes of form but he seems to be under pressure and All-Star winner Ger Cafferkey could be the man to do a job on him.
While Paddy Andrews is a super player his groin injury has hampered his chances of getting a good run at the championship and it remains to be seen how fit he is. Both Ciaran Kilkenny and Paul Mannion have been called ashore in Dublin’s last two games so undoubtedly they will be out to impress on the big day.
Mayo will also be aware of what Stephen Cluxton can do from frees and 45s, his accuracy has kept Dublin in the game on more than one occasion so discipline will be paramount particularly inside their own half.
Michael Darragh Macauley and Aidan O’Shea are they two key men in the middle but it is unlikely they will mark each other. Cian O’Sullivan will probably go on O’Shea while his brother Seamus O’Shea will pick up Macauley.
Aidan has been exceptional all year, with every game he’s getting more effective. Although he hasn’t been scoring, he’s a dominant force on the field from winning kick-outs, to tackles, work rate and his link play, he’s everywhere.
So far this season the Mayo bench hasn’t featured as much as the Dublin one. And while Dublin’s subs are seen as match winners Mayo’s have become forgotten men. However on closer inspection there is plenty of firepower waiting in the wings with Mickey Conroy and Enda Varley who both started last year’s All-Ireland final.
Mayo manager James Horan has left nothing to chance in terms of preparation, his team are focused and driven. There will be no need to call on hunger in Croke Park when the ball is thrown in because they are good enough to make it happen.