Saturday 21 July 2018

Joe Brolly - Mayo should urinate on patronising newspaper columns of ex-Kerry players before today's game

There are certainly sound reasons for putting Aidan O’Shea on Kieran Donaghy. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
There are certainly sound reasons for putting Aidan O’Shea on Kieran Donaghy. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Joe Brolly

If you did a nationwide poll today just as the ball is about to be thrown in, 99 per cent of people would go for Kerry. Because they are Kerry, and because they will play with conviction. And because Mayo - as happened in 2014 over the course of a two-game series when they should have won both days - have so often lost their nerve. Kingdomitis is an affliction that only a few teams have overcome. Down in the '60s, Tyrone in the noughties, Dublin since 2011. Mayo, to date, have politely accepted their fate.

In the World Cup final of 1950, the favourites Brazil faced Uruguay in the Maracana before an attendance of 199,854 screaming Brazilians. Brazil had destroyed their opponents on the way to the decider with electric attacking football, and the local press, on the morning of the final, printed their editions with front page headlines proclaiming Brazil as world champions. As they sat in their dressing room listening to the vast din from the home crowd, the Uruguayan players believed they were lambs to the slaughter, until the door opened and their captain Obdulio Varela walked in carrying an armful of Brazilian newspapers. In silence, he proceeded to lay out the front pages on the floor, until it was covered.

Then, he unzipped his fly, and said "Comrades, will you join me?" His team-mates stood, and solemnly proceeded to urinate over the front pages. Somehow, it broke the psychological spell hanging over them. When their manager Juan Lopez advised them to play defensively and with caution, then left the changing room, Varela made a rousing speech, urged them to ignore Lopez's advice, saying, "If we play defensively today, our fate will be no different than the others." Uruguay attacked from the off, exposing Brazil's frail defence, and after they went 2-1 ahead, the Maracana fell silent from that point until the final whistle.

This Kerry team is not a great one. They have a great manager and are always expertly prepared, which is primarily why only the Dubs have beaten them (2013, 2015 and 2016) in championship since Éamonn Fitzmaurice took over. But regardless of their shortcomings, they believe, and so they will battle ferociously until the end.

Kerry have already unveiled their game-plan. In the first half against Galway, they had a dress rehearsal which went just about perfectly. When they work the ball to the wings in the middle third, Kieran Donaghy knows it's coming long, and prepares himself. Against Galway, Kerry kicked in five perfectly-weighted, diagonal balls, and Donaghy, in spite of the fact he was double-marked, won them easily and quickly killed the game. I say double-marked, but in truth it was the sort of polite marking that isn't marking at all, something of a Mayo speciality.

As my old team-mate Danny Quinn used to point out, a high ball is won long before it ever reaches the square. The foundation stone of any decent high catch is the arse, used to sweep the opponent's hips, to turn him and jockey him out of position and off balance. Here, Donaghy is a master. So, against Mayo in 2014 (twice), and against Galway in the quarter-final, he had won the ball long before it actually reached his hands. Both of these teams demonstrated how not to do it.

Meanwhile, the current Dublin team, who could never be accused of politeness, showed how it should be done in the 2015 final. When they saw the ball being moved to the wings in the middle third, they knew it was about to be launched and went to work. Six times a long ball was launched in on Donaghy and six times it came straight back out. Watching the video last week was instructive. Before the ball is kicked, Donaghy is already being shunted and hemmed in, with the hips, shoulder and body, so he cannot create space for himself where he wants to. On two occasions, Rory O'Carroll actually turns and faces into Donaghy's face, unable to even see the ball. But neither can Donaghy. Philly McMahon and his colleagues get to Donaghy quickly, hemming him in, leaving him nowhere to go. The ball is broken off him, won cleanly or on some occasions the big man simply falls over. On one occasion he manages to win the ball, but is surrounded and over-carries. At all times, the Dubs are in his face. It is the only way to do it. As Kerry showed in the 2014 final when they did something to Michael Murphy that normally only happens between consenting adults in private.

Mayo will have to put a big man on Donaghy, with a smaller one at his feet. But which big man? Aidan O'Shea has the size, power and aerial ability but does he have the balls for it?

David Brady last week volunteered Aidan for the job, but Aidan is no David Brady. Brady was a proven winner, who drove his club to All-Ireland glory and broke the great Tyrone team in the All-Ireland quarter-final of 2014, dominating midfield and kicking three superb points. He was brought on to mark Donaghy in the 2006 final after 11 minutes, when the game was already over, and dominated the Kerry man from that point.

Putting Aidan in there would be a massive statement, every bit as big as replacing the goalkeeper on the morning of the All-Ireland last year. The crowd would go wild as he walked in to take his spot. Donaghy would relish it, exuding all the confidence of a truly great warrior who has done it countless times over the years. Would Aidan be able to withstand that pressure? There are certainly sound reasons for doing it. Firstly, Aidan is a genuinely big man and a physical match for 'Star'. Secondly, Mayo do not play a Dublin or Tyrone-style swarm defence so their full-back often has to fend for himself and must therefore be good in the air. Thirdly, his lack of pace won't be exposed against Star. Fourthly, Aidan is brilliant in possession. Finally, if he can do the job, then it will be an enormous psychological boost to Mayo. If Star is negated, it will scupper a big part of Kerry's plan and they will be left to run the ball against a very pacy and highly-motivated Mayo defence.

I met Lee Keegan outside the changing room after the Roscommon replay. He stood in front of me bouncing and smiling. "You're smaller than I thought Lee." I said, trying in vain to keep the smile off my face. "Everyone says that Joe," he said, "but I have no trouble with the big men." I burst out laughing. He laughed too. "You'll be back for the Kerry game?" I said. "Raring to go Joe," he said. I told him his point against Roscommon, where he broke forward 90 metres and then took possession 40 metres out on the left side and immediately swung it over with his right, was one of the greatest I had ever seen. He said, "I enjoy shooting from there." And so it went, as I basked in his charisma for ten minutes.

Mayo can win it, but to do that they must first break the psychological spell of the Kingdom. I suggest therefore that Lee comes into the Mayo changing room today before the game, spreads out the patronising newspaper columns of ex-Kerry players from the past week ('Mayo are a great team and they'll give us a great game'), and the front pages from the third Mondays in September 1997, 2004, 2006, and 2014. He should then unzip his fly, invite his team-mates to join him and they should urinate over the Kingdom until their bladders, and minds, are emptied.

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