Friday 30 September 2016

Eugene McGee: Mayo's record has been ignored in final countdown

Published 12/09/2016 | 02:30

Mayo manager Stephen Rochford. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

All-Ireland finals are a lot more significant than typical games of football for the two counties involved. At this time of year the peripheral activities associated with the final spread into every corner of Ireland and numerous places abroad. Usually sane people can behave like either giddy school children or raving lunatics.

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Nowadays commercial factors threaten to take over the whole circus as they battle to make the most profit available during the lead-up to the game. Overall, excitement leading to a distinct lack of rational thinking dominates these coming days and many make irrational comments and statements that they wouldn't dream of making at other times of the year. It is all great fun and brightens up the end of the summer.

But when we strip out all the hype and razzmatazz we come to the heart of the matter for real sports people - what can we reasonably expect to happen when the ball is thrown in at 3.30 next Sunday? The popular belief around Ireland that I can detect from a variety of sources is that there is no way Mayo will get the better of holders Dublin.

Fair enough but there is a big difference between that view and the question of whether Mayo COULD win the game. When a team is regarded by the public, or those outside Mayo at least, as complete outsiders - as is indicated by the bookies quoting 3/1 against Mayo at present - and with Dublin oft-heralded as 'the best team ever,' it is no wonder that many observers have long since written off the challengers.

This is a very serious mistake by such people. To the best of my knowledge never in GAA history has one county been at such a high level over a four year period than Mayo 2012-2015 without actually winning at least one All-Ireland.

They have played with distinction in two All-Ireland finals, losing to Dublin by a single point in 2013 and by four points to Donegal in 2012 while in 2014 they drew controversially to eventual champions Kerry in the semi-final and repeated that last year when they finished level with Dublin.

So Mayo have been serious All-Ireland contenders for four successive years, and while I don't believe in luck winning games, even a five per cent swing in scoring would have brought at least two All-Ireland titles to the county.

That is how good Mayo have been in relation to the three eventual champions; Dublin, Donegal and Kerry. And forget about the cliché of mental frailty being Mayo's downfall because they would not still be in contention for Sam Maguire after five seasons if that were the case.

Mayo go into this final as a vastly experienced team which makes their odds look very peculiar. Granted we have to factor in the hype that always surrounds Dublin and the consequent loss of common sense that leads to but these Mayo players will be totally at ease and immune to all that. They are now hardened, ruthless competitors, something which has not been a label often attached to the county in the past five decades.

That one-point defeat to Dublin in 2013 was the one Mayo people will regret most I would venture because it was totally self-inflicted in the closing ten minutes. Up to that point, they had undermined most of Stephen Cluxton's short kick-outs thereby forcing his kicks long.

Composure

But in the final ten minutes with the result in the balance Mayo players lost their composure to the extent that Cluxton cleverly got several kick-outs to the left wing largely unchallenged which Dublin players gratefully accepted. Indeed one of the crucial late scores came from such a kick-out that went to Dublin centre-back Ger Brennan who soloed away from the back line before firing over the crossbar.

Mayo players and their three different sets of management teams have learned a lot since 2013 and that should be clear next Sunday. The biggest danger for Mayo after a season in which they looked fragile at times compared to recent years is that Dublin will go for the jugular at the start and try to raise old fears in Mayo with a flurry of scores that would keep the champions ahead from start to finish.

But I am sure Stephen Rochford and his advisers have factored in such a scenario as they have most other things that have gone wrong in recent times. Mayo may not win this final but they certainly will take Dublin head on more than Kerry did in the semi-final. We have a game to savour!

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