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Mayomen like playing against us – Harte


WERE you to use simple playground logic, next Sunday wouldn't even be close.

Tyrone lost, more comprehensively than the 2-10 to 0-10 scoreline insinuated, to Donegal in June, a match on top of which their entire year appeared to be constructed.

Come August, Mayo smash Donegal into tiny pieces, then put those remnants through a shredder and before trampling joyfully on the debris.

QED: Mayo > Tyrone.

Yet use, say, Kerry as the benchmark instead of Donegal, and span the comparison over a decade rather than a summer, and you might just see Sunday's picture in different shapes and colours.

"Mayo have always been a formidable side but for some strange reason, they didn't perform well against Kerry and particularly in finals," says Mickey Harte, as perplexed with that particular fact as most Mayo people probably are.

"So I think outside of Kerry, they have a good record against everybody else at some stage. They don't always beat everybody else but they've beaten Dublin, they've beaten Cork, they've beaten Donegal, they beat us in '04. So they're capable of beating anybody in the championship.

"They seem to have some issue with Kerry," adds the manager with a three-from-four record against the Kingdom in championship combat. "And maybe they might yet get a chance to sort that out this year.

"But they never would have been afraid of us. And they always would have believed that they could play good football against us. They appear to like playing us ... certainly more than they like playing Kerry."

Yet based on the hard evidence of the past three summers, you couldn't but surmise that Harte's team don't enjoy playing Donegal, just as Mayo haven't Kerry in the not-too-distant past.

Or if they do, the enjoyment is derived not from winning, but some masochistic tendency.

Thrice they have tried and failed and only this season has Harte been able to successfully relaunch their summer having fallen at the battle around which they had clearly obsessed prior to its commencement.

Mayo, conversely, had no problems at all with Jimmy and his mighty Tír Chonaill men.

But then, they tend to thrive – impressively – against reigning All-Ireland champions. Cork in 2011, Dublin in '12 and Donegal this year ... this Mayo team under James Horan have, almost literally, done everything worthwhile in Gaelic football bar winning the All-Ireland.



Of their victories under Horan, the Donegal one stands miles apart. Yet according to Harte, that Donegal team and the one his team were beaten by in Ballybofey were two contrasting units.

"Donegal were a tiring side," he insists. "There is no doubt about it. They probably put a big effort into beating us. And from that day, their curve was going slightly down all of the time.

"People weren't sure if that was the case. Down held them to three points. Monaghan turned them over. And they came a cropper against Mayo. So there was a sense of teams going in opposite directions at that time.

"Nobody saw that they were going that far in different directions. But they were going in different directions."

Which isn't to demean Mayo's accomplishment in any way. For a comparable performance from his own team, Harte has to go back to the 2008 All-Ireland quarter-final, a 12-point win over Dublin, just to come close.

"The wet-night job in Dublin," as he recalls it.

"They were hot favourites and we weren't. They missed a few chances at the start and we got over that and really put together some of the best football we ever played.

"So these things happens sometimes in a game. The margin can just sometimes take on a proportion that no one expected because a few things happened to lead it in that direction. And that's really what happened to Donegal."

Yet Mayo have won their four championship matches this summer by 17 (Galway), 12 (Roscommon), 16 (London) and 16 again (Donegal), a cumulative winning total of 61 points or an average of just over 15 per game.

"It can't be all about having an easy passage," Harte points out. "There has to be something about Mayo that says they are a much stronger force than they were last year.

"And for them to come back after the disappointment of losing last year's All-Ireland final . . . they have Andy Moran back, they have Alan Dillon back and they have Cillian O'Connor back.

"Aidan O'Shea and Séamus O'Shea are dominating the middle of the field. So there are lots of things falling into place for Mayo. They always were a good team anyway. If you look back to the National League for consistency, they were always the most consistent team in Division 1 for all of that time.

"So they're a seasoned outfit," Harte concludes. "And they have lots of good players. They have been in lots quarter-finals and semis and All-Ireland finals and they enjoy playing against us."