Tuesday 20 August 2019

A perfect O'Shea, rain, goals and not beating themselves - Mayo's plan to put a stop to five-in-a-row


Aidan O’Shea charges past Niall O’Donnell and the Mayo talisman will need to be at his best if they are to overcome Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Aidan O’Shea charges past Niall O’Donnell and the Mayo talisman will need to be at his best if they are to overcome Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

February 11, 1990, on a clammy Tokyo night, James 'Buster' Douglas, defeated 'Iron' Mike Tyson in what is still regarded as one of the greatest sporting upsets of all time. Should Mayo beat Dublin next Saturday evening in Croke Park, it will rank as one of the greatest GAA upsets of all time.

Going into their heavyweight title fight, Douglas was a staggering 42/1 long shot against the undefeated Tyson, who had rampaged his way to a 37-0 record, obliterating anyone who came in his way.

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Jim Gavin carries a 34-match unbeaten championship run into Croke Park next Saturday, amassed in a similarly ruthless fashion. Gavin knows this record will come to an end some day, but for Mayo to knock Dublin to the canvas, they have more than just one man to overcome.

Cutting straight to the chase, can Mayo beat Dublin? The simple answer is yes. But one knockout punch is not going to do it for them, like it did for Douglas almost 30 years ago. Several things have to happen for them to have any chance, otherwise the team that has pushed Gavin's men closer than any will become what Jimmy White was during the Stephen Hendry era. An undoubtedly great group of players, just not quite great enough.

What needs to happen

1 Aidan O'Shea must deliver the game of his life. His battling qualities in the middle third against Donegal in Castlebar provided Mayo with a platform of possession that they so badly need to defeat big teams, such is their inefficiency with possession. Whoever dominates possession will win next Saturday, therefore O'Shea will need to dominate the middle third to an extent like he has never done before against Dublin and quell the influence of Brian Fenton and Co. He is having his best season to date, but his greatest hour still awaits.

2 Andy Moran has to be on the field going down the home straight. Moran is one of the few Mayo players with the composure and skill set to create chances and exploit the space a Dublin full-back line will allow. He doesn't have the legs for 70 minutes, so James Horan will need to carefully decide the right time to deploy the 2017 Footballer of the Year to ensure he can exert the kind of influence we saw in Castlebar against Donegal. In 2017, Moran was called ashore with 10 minutes to go, leaving Mayo bereft of leadership or creativity up front. For all the promise shown by Mayo's younger players, they still need Moran to steer them towards the Promised Land, before he finally succumbs to Father Time.

3 Paddy Durcan and Lee Keegan need to maintain their form. Two of the best wing-backs in the game again showed their importance to Mayo's overall game-plan against Donegal. With a tenacity and discipline to effectively shut down a key opponent, coupled with the athleticism and drive to still exert a strong influence in attack, they are the type of player every manager dreams of having. They will need to contribute three or four points along with shutting down their opposing threats, and I can't think of another pair that could pull off such a feat against Dublin. Ciarán Kilkenny and Brian Howard are the likely candidates to be in their sights, and whoever comes out on top of these battles will go a long way to deciding the outcome of the game.

4 Score goals. Mayo need to score at least two goals if they are going to beat Dublin. They created plenty of half-chances against Donegal, but didn't have the composure or guile to ruthlessly find the net in the same way Dublin routinely do. Horan will maintain a front line of attack, which if they can win early ball should have willing runners to offload and put Stephen Cluxton under pressure. When these opportunities arise, and they will, they simply must take them, as they don't have the shot efficiency to rely on points to get over the line.

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5 It needs to rain. Mayo's frantic style of pressure play suits a wet ball, as opponents have a tighter margin for error in contact. It certainly worked to their advantage against Donegal. With Dublin so assured in possession of a dry ball, a greasy Croke Park surface will work in Mayo's favour, and give them a fighter's chance of upsetting Dublin's flowing style of play. Early forecasts are showing rain clouds over Jones Road next weekend, which Mayo hope will empty just before the throw-in.

6 No sendings-off or goalkeeper calamities. No other team can rival Mayo when it comes to methods of self-destruction, and their propensity to make life needlessly difficult for themselves has cost them dearly in the past. Play on the edge but not over it, and nothing crazy between the sticks. Not too much to ask, but with Rob Hennelly back in the frame for a starting position, nervous times await.


Mayo need to deliver an almost flawless performance next Saturday to stand a chance. Douglas took 10 rounds to defeat Tyson, after being knocked to the canvas himself in the eighth.

Mayo have been knocked down more times than any other team should have to endure, but refuse to be counted out. Douglas got up and went on to shake the world. In sport anything is possible. Seconds out!

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