Horan’s men have set a higher bar than Tyrone – their liberation is finally at hand
Here’s an early prediction for the All-Ireland football final – Mayo’s 70-year wait for Sam Maguire will end in ten days’ time.
It’s a call based solely on the evidence as I see it and would have been the same if Kerry had nudged past Tyrone in the closing minute of normal or extra-time.
In athletics terms, Mayo have posted the fastest run of the season so far and, if replicated, Tyrone will not match it, not this year anyway.
They will, however, make it harder than Kerry would have done as it was evident on Saturday that the Kingdom were more glitter than gold.
I raised the question here last week as to whether they were overrated. Despite good reason for doubts, many regarded them as the real deal, champions-in-waiting who might even win the title without being stretched.
The camp would argue that they were oblivious to all the noise, especially back home, but how could they avoid the giddiness at a time when counting chickens was a fun pastime in the county?
Inexplicably, they soared to All-Ireland favouritism, even while Dublin, complete with six successive All-Irelands on their extraordinary achievements’ list, were still in the race. Presumably, that was based on doubts about the Dubs’ well-being after failing to reach the usual high standards against Wexford, Meath and Kildare.
Meanwhile, Kerry were marauding through Munster, scattering opposition as they went. They were being told that Croke Park was their stage and they couldn’t wait to get there.
Tyrone’s Covid saga resulted in the journey taking two weeks longer than expected but that had nothing to do with Saturday’s defeat.
Top-level sport involves coping with whatever challenges arise, so if Kerry were so finely primed that a 13-day delay undermined them, then they need to re-examine their tuning techniques.
The truth was that apart from Kerry, Munster had the lowest standard of all the provinces, which has been the case since Cork fell into a trough which appears to have no bottom.
Despite that, all three of Kerry’s demolition jobs sent their stock soaring. It turned out to be junk bond stuff.
So what about their Division 1 campaign, where they ran up remarkable scorelines? Unlike pre-Covid times when the Allianz League offered a reliable pointer to the championship, this year’s competition, complete with four-team groups, semi-finals and three finals that weren’t even played, was a mere mini-blitz.
Leaving aside Dublin, Monaghan, Cork and Down, who broke Covid regulations in a shameful attempt to cheat their way ahead of rivals, we have no idea of how much work other counties got in, legitimately or otherwise, during lockdown.
Even if all the others stuck by the rules, it’s possible that some panels trained better than others on an individual basis, leading to wide fitness variations, followed by distorted result patterns.
Given those unusual circumstances, it was ridiculous to attach much significance to the short, sharp campaign. Still it happened in spectacular style with Kerry and lasted all the way to last Saturday when they were finally asked some genuine questions.
Tyrone didn’t have to be particularly good to win, whereas Mayo needed to bring something exceptional to beat Dublin. Not only were they facing a huge psychological imbalance against the best team (statistically at least) of all time, they had to recover from a seven-point deficit. This, against an outfit whom they hadn’t beaten in their previous 17 meetings.
Mayo’s second-half performance was pure excellence, not just in terms of courage and sheer grit, but also in how they skilfully dismantled Dublin’s resistance, something nobody else had managed since 2014.
They had done the same in the Connacht final, and while Galway weren’t at Dublin’s level, they would have had a serious chance of beating Kerry or Tyrone.
Much of the focus on Mayo’s semi-final win centred on why Dublin disintegrated in the second half.
That was always going to be the main reaction and doesn’t give enough credit to Mayo for the manner in which a squad, now powered by some new engines, reacted to the massive challenge. It was well ahead of what Tyrone had to do against less formidable opposition last Saturday.
Perhaps, there’s a lot more to come from the Ulster champions, but then the same applies to Mayo. Their time has been a long time coming, but it’s here. Liberation is at hand.
The beginning of a new dawn in Leinster football or merely a tiny sliver of light which won’t amount to much in the longer term?
Only time will tell, but in a province where Dublin’s giant shadow has choked growth elsewhere, this year has been encouraging for the rest. At senior level, the gap between Dublin and the rest narrowed, albeit with still a long way to go. That was followed by Dublin’s loss to Mayo, which will raise hopes elsewhere. Suddenly, the Dubs don’t appear as intimidating anymore.
Psychologically, that’s important, especially to Leinster counties.
And then there was Offaly’s All-Ireland U-20 success and Meath’s minor triumph, their first for 29 years.
Dublin apart, it’s the first time that the U-20/21 and minor titles have been won by Leinster counties in the same year.
Both Offaly and Meath were mighty impressive too and now the question is – how much of that fine young talent can be brought through to senior level?
In an era when managers are under ridiculous levels of pressure, often driven by unrealistic expectations, it’s encouraging to see that common sense isn’t always ignored. Credit then to Donegal, where Declan Bonner has been given a two-year extension.
Since his three-year term finished after the Ulster Championship defeat by Tyrone, the clubs were asked for nominations.
Bonner had stated his desire to continue and the clubs gave him their backing by not nominating any challengers, which was seen as a vote of confidence in him.
It was the right call. Michael Murphy’s dismissal in the Ulster semi-final may well have changed the course of this year’s championship. Would Donegal rather than Tyrone now be preparing for the All-Ireland final?
The absence of qualifiers (which could have been avoided) severely hampered a number of genuine contenders again this year, something that was obviously recognised in Donegal.