Sunday 17 December 2017

Comment: Mayo's passion and heart their secret weapon against wounded Dublin

Linesman Maurice Deegan attempts to listen to Cillian O'Connor of Mayo
Linesman Maurice Deegan attempts to listen to Cillian O'Connor of Mayo
'Like his opposite number, the Mayo manager is a “process” kind of guy too. He knows all too well that the native culture had too much faith in faith alone, and not enough in the mechanics and skills of the game.' Photo: Sportsfile

Tommy Conlon

Met Éireann, at time of writing, wasn't able to proffer a weather forecast for next weekend - specifically for Saturday at 5.0 around Dublin's north inner city.

We rang them because the conditions last Sunday contributed so much to the jagged texture of the All-Ireland final. A wet surface again in Croke Park will bring a similarly volatile chemical to the replay.

And God knows, things will be volatile enough anyway. The Dublin forwards, for one thing, will be hell-bent on avoiding another shut-out by a Mayo defence that comprehensively locked them down. Their stats were embarrassing. The video analysis last week was undoubtedly mortifying. They have a lot of hurt to exorcise; they have a reputation to reclaim; they will have vowed to avoid a repeat.

The Mayo defenders, meanwhile, are entitled to feel they have Dublin's number now. Their confidence will have soared on the back of that unprecedented containing job. They will want to double the dose with knobs on; they will not be taking a backward step either.

It is precisely the kind of scenario that leads to flashpoints and flare-ups as each individual in a competing duo struggles for the upper hand. This match will be a combustible affair. We can therefore expect to see the running battle conducted by Lee Keegan and Diarmuid Connolly last Sunday more or less cloned in other sectors of the field too.

This particular tango reached a climax of sorts around the hour mark when they pulled and pawed each other for several seconds, seemingly oblivious to proceedings elsewhere. Connolly eventually forced Keegan to the ground. But even from this highly unpromising position, the Mayo man held on to a fistful of the Dub's torn jersey. He just wouldn't let go. It must have been a point of principle. There might be a metaphor in here somewhere: Connolly towering over him, Keegan still hanging in there and hanging on against the odds. It will presumably form part of the Dublin conversation within their inner sanctum this week. We never played as badly and still these boggers from the west were only hanging on to our coattails at the end. Three points up and us playing shite. Let's raise our game and finish them off.

It's not just players and coaching staff singing this tune. It quickly became a consensus among pundits and punters after the final whistle seven days ago: Dublin cannot play as badly again, ergo Dublin to win the replay. And anyway, it's a long-standing rule of thumb that if the underdogs don't get it done the first day, they'll be punished the next.

It is self-evidently the most logical position to take. And just because it's obvious doesn't mean it's wrong, or facile. And just because the drawn game defied all logic doesn't mean the replay will defy all logic too.

But still, it was a match that reminded everyone just how often seemingly gold-plated predictions are confounded by the unruly energy of sporting contests. The unforeseen routinely occurs; something happens out of left-field; a key player doesn't perform; a marginal player comes centre stage; a sending off derails the best-laid plans. Acts of random provenance are forever riding shotgun with the gods of logic.

It was utterly inconceivable that Dublin would not register a score of their own for the first 30 minutes of an All-Ireland final. It was highly improbable that they would manage just six points from play; it was most unlikely that they would not get more than nine points over some 80 minutes.

For an adamant logician like Jim Gavin, these were figures that must have come close to challenging his fundamental worldview.

Was this a complete and total one-off? The champions have been too good for too long not to be afforded the benefit of the doubt. So normal service should be resumed next Saturday. But one might equally argue that this is a Mayo team with abnormal levels of heart. And the heart is sometimes too powerful for the mind, emotion too strong for reason. If the Dubs find a way to score, say 18 points on Saturday, maybe Mayo will find a way to overcome that too. How? Because they just will; simple as that.

Not that Stephen Rochford will be taking this on faith either. Like his opposite number, the Mayo manager is a "process" kind of guy too. He knows all too well that the native culture had too much faith in faith alone, and not enough in the mechanics and skills of the game. He too is a believer in logical outcomes from logical processes.

Naturally, he will have adapted it to suit his own themes last week and this. So he has certainly assured his defenders that if they can shut down the Dublin attack once, it stands to reason they can do it twice. And on the other hand, if they give the ball away with such criminal negligence again, it stands to reason that they won't get away with it twice. Composure, composure, composure.

And along with the composure, madness. Mayo will surely arrive into Croke Park knowing they need to tilt the scales a little towards the former; Dublin may feel they didn't bring enough of the latter last weekend. In any event, both of them will be bringing plenty of everything next Saturday.

Will it rain? You betcha. It will positively pour.

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