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‘There is more steel to the Mayo team this year and we’re better off playing Donegal than the likes of Kerry’

JACKIE CAHILL: Do you think the Mayo team is going better than in previous years?

Conor Mortimer: There's a different steel to the team, no doubt about that. Better than last year, seeing as they're in the All-Ireland final. You'd have to say they have improved but, like any game, you win a semi-final... 70 minutes is a long way away. All-Ireland finals are like that. The current set-up has a much better chance going into the final than we had, and a lot different circumstances, than we had in 2004 and 2006. For one, we're not playing Kerry.

JC: Was that a huge psychological thing?

CM: Not back at the time, no. I genuinely thought that we would win one, if not both of those finals. But you need that belief.

JC: Did you have it (belief)?

CM: We all had it. Even eight or nine points down after 10 or 15 minutes, we thought we had a chance but they were just better, that was it. That's what happens in finals. The best team will win the All-Ireland.

JC: The incredible hype in Donegal -- is that a good or bad thing for Mayo?

CM: I don't think there are underdogs in an All-Ireland final. Donegal have been more impressive getting through, don't get me wrong. They've beaten the big teams -- Cork and Kerry. Mayo have beaten last year's winners, Dublin. Hasn't been too much talk from the Donegal players, which is a good sign. I think Donegal are well drilled. The media have been talking about Donegal all of last year and all of this year. I don't think they'll fall into that trap, as being favourites. They have a job to do -- just like Mayo.

JC: What about Donegal's style? Do you admire the way they play?

CM: I wouldn't have, no. I said it earlier in the year. It's very defensive but in the last couple of games they've been kicking the ball long into their forwards and they're getting more scores than last year. They're not just stopping teams. They have another string to their bow. It gives them another dimension. It's winning games for them. It's not for me or anybody else to say whether it's nice to watch -- it's about winning bloody medals and that's what they're doing.

JC: How fit are they?

CM: They're very fit, yeah, but Mayo are very fit as well. They've trained hard under (Cian) O'Neill this year. I was involved myself at the start of the year and they're a very fit side, they're young. They might have tired in the last 20 minutes the last day but Dublin turned the screw a little bit.

JC: Do you know Jim McGuinness?

CM: I've met him a couple of times over the years. Jimmy's a nice guy. He's changed a lot since he was in college. Good player in his time, he's a good coach. It shows what it means to him when he's on the pitch, when they win games. He's out jumping around the place -- it means a lot.

JC: Do they have weaknesses?

CM: Every team has weaknesses. I think they might be a bit vulnerable to a long ball. They have good backs, don't get me wrong, but when you're going forward all the time, it's very easy to cover the cracks, if there are cracks. They haven't been shown to have too many weaknesses but I don't think any team is unbeatable. Where they are, obviously I don't know, but Mayo are going to have to find them if they're going to win the game.

JC: What about Andy Moran's absence, how big a factor is that?

CM: It's going to be big in this game again. They lacked a bit in the last 20 minutes (against Dublin) when you needed someone in the inside line to really stand up and win ball for you, draw a few frees, lay a few balls off. That's what Andy brings to it when the chips are down but like any team, if you have a good squad, you'll replace them and go on and win the game. A lot of the talk before the last game was about Andy missing -- I think the players who came in at the end of the day won the game. That's what semi-finals are about -- winning.

JC: Do Mayo have someone that can go with Mark McHugh?

CM: It's hard to know. You can't let him play the way he's played because he can run a game. You could put a runner with him if you wanted to but Mark McHugh's a good footballer. He's a good player. He's got good pedigree in the house as well. It's important that they don't worry about one player. Michael Murphy is playing well in the role that he's required to do but as a scoring forward he has a lot more to give. I'd be looking at him for that. (Colm) McFadden is obviously playing well, (Rory) Kavanagh in the middle of the field, McGees are playing well, (Paul) Durcan in goal, (Karl) Lacey... they have a good side, but Mayo have players of equal ability too.

JC: And Donegal -- how will they cope with Alan Dillon?

CM: They'll have to. If they give 'Dillo' the freedom of the park, he'll hurt them. He's done that to teams this year. Will they deploy (Karl) Lacey to mark him? I don't think they will because it takes away from Lacey's game, what he offers to the team.

It will probably be (Anthony) Thompson or someone like that. They'll have to get tight, though, because if they don't, he'll hurt Donegal.

JC: Straight up -- who's going to win and why?

CM: As I said before the Dublin game, it will depend on what formation Mayo bring to the game. It's very difficult to set up and play the way Donegal play, as in play them at their own game, because they're very defensive and have players in certain areas at all stages of the game. They're in their better positions when they go forward and they all drop back.

Who's going to win it? It's a good chance for Mayo, if I'm honest. I'd rather play Donegal than Cork or Kerry. The way Donegal have played this year, it's hard to see anybody beating them but it's a final and it's 50-50. The two teams genuinely have a good chance of winning it. If Mayo are in the game with 10 minutes to go, they've a great chance of winning it but it's very important that they're in the game with that period left.

If Donegal get five points up, they're very good at holding a lead, flooding you out, clogging it up, smothering you. Defending a lead, it's not good to see in Gaelic football but that's what they're doing to win games and it's working for them. I'd be hopeful for Mayo. If they play to their potential, there could be a one or two-point win in it for Mayo.

JC: Which leads on to my final question -- what would it mean to Mayo?

CM: It would be massive but Donegal haven't won it too many times either.

JC: Just the once -- 1992

CM: It's big for whoever wins the All-Ireland but it's time for Mayo to win an All-Ireland. Whether it's this year, next year or the year after... when you keep knocking on the door, it has to open. I've said it for years, if Mayo win the All-Ireland, it's the players that have played from '96, '86 onwards, that have a part to play in the All-Ireland.

It's not just the current set-up that you have and that's it, forget about everyone that got them to that. Mayo have been knocking on the door for the best part of 20 years, 30 years. I know it's 1951 since they won it but they've been getting to finals since '89.

And we have a very good record of getting to semi-finals and finals, and not closing the door out. It will be interesting to see. The place will go bananas if they win the All-Ireland. But Donegal are in the same boat. It's important for the players not to even think about the afters. I know in 2004 and 2006, all we were thinking about was the craic that we'll have after this. I don't think they are. I think they're being well shielded now, heads down for training. We'll see what happens."

Irish Independent