Horan's men have momentum but Cork's experience can seal deal
CONSISTENCY is not, necessarily, a word readily associated with the footballers of Cork and Mayo, but you could argue that it applies to both contestants for this year's top-flight crown.
Under Conor Counihan, during this year's league run and even during their All-Ireland odyssey of 2010, Cork have displayed an incorrigible inconsistency within games ... but in one respect their reliability is beyond reproach. Tomorrow they will attempt to complete a hat-trick of Division One titles, having also claimed the second-tier prize in 2009.
Meanwhile, Mayo -- for all their enigmatic charms -- are proven top-flight performers. They frequently rattle the big boys, so much so that it begs the question are they merely mixing in the same company.
Over the past five weeks, they should have beaten Cork, steamrolled Dublin, drew in Kerry and then toppled the latter after extra-time. Moreover, a perhaps forgotten stat from the maligned second coming of John O'Mahony is that they actually reached two league finals on his watch, in 2007 and 2010.
But that leads us straight onto the all-pervading caveat about Mayo teams. Over the past decade or so, their record in reaching national finals eclipses all bar a handful -- winning them is the problem.
Can they buck that trend tomorrow? Yes they can! Will they? Maybe not, for a few reasons. We witnessed Cork claim victory in the flesh, against Dublin a few weeks back, and weren't overly impressed. But, despite the odd wobble, they disposed of Down in their semi-final in clinical fashion. Up front, key men are hitting form. Colm O'Neill looked razor sharp against Down -- he missed a few but scored even more. Paul Kerrigan gave a half-forward master class -- scoring 0-3 while spraying some exquisite foot-passes inside.
True, the game lacked real intensity and Mayo's in-form defence, led by their dynamic half-back trio, will test those Cork forwards' ability to thrive under pressure. Yet, even if O'Neill and Kerrigan are held, alternative match-winners may emerge: Donncha O'Connor could bring his 'A' game to Croker, Aidan Walsh offers the modh direach option, a fit-again Daniel Goulding is primed on the bench.
Countering that, Kerry possess more marquee forwards and Messrs Higgins, Cafferkey, Boyle et al were pretty resolute in stifling them two weeks ago.
Ultimately, much may depend on whether a Mayo midfield minus Aidan O'Shea's pivotal influence can secure a reasonable supply of ball against Alan O'Connor, Pearse O'Neill -- and Walsh if he rambles out there.
Cork may have a physique advantage but Mayo, under James Horan, are hitting harder and coming closer to the intensity levels required of champions. Arguably, they also enter this final with greater momentum while the mood of positivity can only have been bolstered by their training camp in Portugal.
Other reasons to be positive? Conor Mortimer's beguiling first half against Kerry. The enduring ability of Alan Dillon and Andy Moran to make them tick. Memories, still fresh, of how Mayo bucked their ridiculous 5/1 odds against Cork last summer.
Tomorrow's 2/1 are closer to reality but are still a tad unfair on the underdogs.
For all that, Cork's power, experience, maybe even the revenge factor, might just swing it.
ODDS: Cork 8/15, Draw 15/2, Mayo 2/1