Sunday 25 August 2019

Peter Canavan: 'It's the biggest rivalry of the decade, but I can only see one result. A Dublin win.'

Kerry might just have a little bit more to come off the bench and tip the game in their favour

James Horan offers his hand to Jim Gavin after Dublin’s defeat of Mayo in the 2013 All-Ireland final. Photo: Sportsfile
James Horan offers his hand to Jim Gavin after Dublin’s defeat of Mayo in the 2013 All-Ireland final. Photo: Sportsfile

Peter Canavan

One of the benefits of the new, tighter calendar is that we get weekends like this with four of the top teams in the country going at it on consecutive days. One of the downsides is that it will all be over in the blink of an eye.

Saturday's game was sold out from early in the week. Sunday's clash will attract a healthy crowd too and inside 24 hours we'll know who will be in this year's All-Ireland final.

Ironically, it's the game in which I can only see one outcome that is the biggest draw this weekend. It's probably fitting that Dublin would have to beat Mayo. It has been by far the biggest rivalry of the decade, but I can only see one result. A Dublin win.

For all the same reasons I could see Mayo winning last weekend, the opposite is true this time around. I just can’t see them pulling it off this evening.

They had a fortnight to prepare for that Donegal game. They got some rest into weary legs and some more rehab into injured bodies. They had time to prepare and focus for a do-or-die game in front of their home crowd. In that situation, Mayo are very hard to stop.

This weekend, all of that is turned on its head. Last weekend was great for Mayo football, but there is a psychological and physiological toll to be paid.

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte. Photo: Sportsfile
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte. Photo: Sportsfile

Beating Donegal was huge and there’ll be a comedown period for that. That’s only natural. They had two full weeks to go after Shaun Patton, Michael Murphy and Ryan McHugh.

They will have had maybe one good training session this week. I can’t imagine James Horan was talking Stephen Cluxton and kick-outs and marking assignments until late this week. Hardly ideal considering they take on Dublin in their own back yard.

Then there’s the physical element to their recovery. Earlier this season, Mayo beat Galway in a huge game. The following week they were flat against Kerry in Killarney. It’s a big ask for any team, not least Mayo’s senior men with the loss of Jason Doherty a further blow.

And I don’t foresee Dublin making life easy for them either. They won’t take them for granted, given how previous fixtures between these sides have gone. Rob Hennelly will likely be in goal and Dublin will have noticed his preference for going long last weekend. Jim Gavin will be ready for that.

Horan has a decision to make too. In previous games, Mayo have been willing to go toe-to-toe with Dublin, but of late Colm Boyle has been playing as a sweeper and he has been brilliant. The problem with Dublin is that their forwards are so good you can’t leave anyone free, while Con O’Callaghan and Paul Mannion look to be in the form of their lives. 

So if Horan wants Boyle as the extra man, he might have to pick someone like Stephen Coen in the half-forward line and bring him back into defence.

Mayo will be game and brave but there are just too many questions to answer and they’ll eventually run out of answers. Dublin will move to within a game of history.

The second match will be closer. One examination of it could see it billed as Kerry’s brilliant attack against Tyrone’s miserly rearguard, but I think we’ll see both teams go for it tomorrow.

The strength of Peter Keane’s men lies in their attack. They have the best set of forwards in the country who possess a variety of different strengths. David Clifford and Seán O’Shea don’t miss. Paul Geaney is the cool head.

Stephen O’Brien is a devastating ball carrier, while Killian Spillane has found form and there’s talk, too, that James O’Donoghue is edging back to fitness. Tommy Walsh’s introduction against Meath will give Tyrone more to think about – he’d enjoy a considerable height advantage over their full-back line.

And even some of their backs, like Paul Murphy and Gavin White, are comfortable going forward. They averaged 24 points per game in a tricky Super 8s group with Donegal, Mayo and Meath. You’d have to imagine that 24 points would see them into a final.

However, they have had problems at the back. Against Cork they looked porous, while last weekend Meath’s rookie full-forward Shane Walsh kicked six points, three from play.

Mickey Harte will have noticed that and that’s why I think he’ll commit more bodies further up the field and leave Mattie Donnelly and Cathal McShane close to goal to try and play the game in parts of the field where Kerry are less assured.

Those two, along with Petey Harte and Niall Sludden, can cause Kerry problems. But at the other end, Tyrone will need a season's best showing from their defence.

Donegal and Cork cut through Tyrone at various stages. Roscommon created three or four goal chances too.

So, with all due respect, if Roscommon and Cork can cut through them then you’d be concerned about what Kerry could do to them. Tyrone will need to produce more turnovers and a higher intensity, akin to what Mayo managed last week.

Tyrone have had the preferable run-in, but you sensed Kerry kept a little in the tank in Navan last week. They will be ready.

So it will be an open game with little to choose between them, but when it comes to it I think Kerry might just have a little bit more to come off the bench and tip the game in their favour.

That will set up the final the history books demanded. In some ways it’s fitting that, after their near miss in 1982, Kerry would be the final hurdle in Dublin's 'Drive for Five.'

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