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Lar Corbett: I can't see a way for Mayo to break down this Donegal wall

I can't see Donegal losing Sunday's All-Ireland football final. I say that because of the way they have developed under Jim McGuinness in the last two years.

Their system and tactics confuse the opposition, with defenders turning up as forwards to finish off flowing moves. But my head is ruling my heart on this one. I'd like to see Mayo succeed because of Cian O'Neill's involvement. Cian was involved with Tipperary for four years and he's the best physical trainer that I've ever seen.

The days leading up to an All-Ireland final are challenging for players. Everything around you is changing but you must stay the same. Your town or village is changing with the colours flying, the crowds attending training sessions are bigger, people in the shops look at you differently, and the phone is busier with text messages and calls.

But you have to stick tight to the two or three people that that are most important to you. With 90pc of the people in the county slightly losing their minds, it's the people that have given consistent and sound advice who players must gravitate towards.

My first experience of an All-Ireland final was in 2001, and I remember feeding off the positive energy of the older players. Lads like Declan Ryan, Tommy Dunne and Brian O'Meara were relaxed in training the week before the game, relaxed on the team bus on the way to Dublin, relaxed in the dressing-room. They didn't have to say anything but there was a positive vibe radiating from those guys.

I remember the tickets being handed out underneath the Old Stand at Semple Stadium and the crowds in around the place.

The build-up can turn into a circus and that can be distracting. You begin to wonder if it's always going to be like this, but Monday morning is a rude awakening for a player that loses an All-Ireland final. Of course, supporters mean well but it can be very draining answering the same questions on the street over and over again. While some players can cope with stuff like that, others can't.

Management must strike a balance between allowing the players to enjoy what might be their only experience of preparing for an All-Ireland final, and giving themselves the best chance of winning it. How they manage the press night and training sessions all play a part.

For much of the year, teams will have trained with one man and a dog watching them but now, in the days before the biggest game of their lives, several thousand supporters are turning up.

The team has to prepare tactically and that's difficult when several thousand pairs of eyes are looking on. Management may have to close training and run the risk of alienating some supporters or change the time of training at the last minute, maybe to an early morning session to get some privacy.

On the day, most lads will be tuned up just right. Very few teams freeze at the start of big games any more, due to the levels of preparation. The details of what will happen on the big day will have been gone through from the time the bus leaves the team hotel to when the ball is thrown in. Each player would have a timetable of events with a minute-by-minute countdown. The teams will likely have walked through the match-day timetable last weekend, along the lines of Sunday's schedule. Nothing is left to chance.

At the same time, players are still working and living in their local communities. They pick up on the build-up among supporters. There is a need to feed off this energy to an extent, but the biggest challenge is to retain focus on the job at hand.

Locking yourself away for two weeks is no solution but saluting your friends in the crowd during the pre-match parade is not the answer either.

There is a massive sense of anticipation surrounding Sunday's game. There's the novelty factor with Donegal and Mayo involved. Donegal haven't won it since 1992, while Mayo's wait stretches back to 1951. All week long it's been talk of tickets, heading up the night before, the homecoming. Today FM's 'Gift Grub' have Enda Kenny against Daniel O'Donnell in a Mayo v Donegal sing-off. But on the day, only one team will survive.

I can't profess to being a football expert, but I've followed the progress of both teams. Both have been impressive in their own ways, but Donegal's victories over Kerry and Cork were massive statements of intent. Mayo beat Down and last year's champions Dublin but they won't have encountered anything like the challenge that Donegal will present.

And I can't see a way for Mayo to break down this remarkable Donegal wall.

While I'm at it . . .

JAMES McGrath has got the unenviable task of replacing Barry Kelly for the All-Ireland senior hurling final replay. Barry did an excellent job in the drawn game. He blew for the necessary frees and yet the game wasn't polluted with stops and starts. He showed it is possible to strike a sensible balance and not ruin the game.

More than anything, he was consistent. After 10 minutes, all 30 players knew what he blowing for, and he stuck to that throughout. Two incidents from last Saturday's U-21 final stand out as a contrast. Kilkenny's full-forward won possession in the first half, his arm and shoulder were held -- penalty. In the second half, the Clare corner-forward has possession, his arm and hand are held for several seconds, there's a pause, the Clare crowd roars -- no penalty.

Very similar incidents, but different results. So what we need in the senior replay are clarity and consistency. I was impressed by Clare's U-21s. They played with great confidence and togetherness, but their first touch and the eye for goal inside the 21-yard line really impressed me.

Hurling, when played like that, is a joy to watch. The hope now is that Clare can move forward and challenge for All-Ireland senior honours in the years to come. It's impossible to say whether they will get there or not but the ingredients are certainly there and the journey is worth following.

Irish Independent