Tuesday 20 February 2018

O'Mahony's young guns need reason to believe

Cork and Mayo could both do with a title, writes Páidí ó Sé

I HAVE written already in the course of the league that I hold out considerable hopes for Mayo in this year's championship. So, on that score, their ambitions face a crucial test in today's league final against a powerful Cork team.

I don't pay any heed to the idea that this game is of little consequence to either side because they are focusing on the championship. Neither team will play their first game in the championship for another five weeks, so they will know there is a title to be won today and plenty of time afterwards to fine-tune for what they hope will be a long summer.

Mayo's biggest problem is the tyranny of history. The whole world knows that they haven't won an All-Ireland for nearly 60 years and this bears down on them every time they take the field in a competitive contest.

It reminds me a little bit of the mammoth pressure on Kerry in the five-in-a-row final in 1982 when we became paralysed because of the awesome, history-making task in front of us.

Mayo, in their own way, must feel something of this as they strive to overcome the sense of failure and disappointment that has cursed the county since 1951. I hold to my belief that they are a young, talented football side and I emphasise that this match is of vital importance to both teams.

I have argued over the winter that the experience and confidence-boost to Cork of winning the National League would give them powerful momentum going into the Munster championship.

Both teams have lost some players due to injury which for me adds to the intrigue of it. Cork are without Anthony Lynch, John Miskella, Graham Canty and Pearse O'Neill but Conor Counihan knows what they can do -- he'll be keen to see how others fare on a big day.

Cork, on the face of it, are toughened for the fray in a way that Mayo are not and they have more recent experience of Croke Park than do their opponents. But the atmosphere today won't be anything like the crucible of an All-Ireland final or semi-final and I think this will give the young Mayo lads a chance to pull it off.

I know that John O'Mahony is taking this game very seriously. At this juncture of his career, he needs to win a big game. He has a proven track record with Galway, and he has never been in a stronger position than at the moment to vindicate his abilities with Mayo, having been helped in no small way by the eclipse of Kerry in the league.

It is all about belief. One of the things that has stood to Kerry's advantage over the decades is tradition -- the fact that in almost every neighbourhood, there are All-Ireland medal-winners to inspire the next generation and to show them that it can be done.

In fairness to this Mayo team, they needed to get a result in the last round in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, and they showed the requisite hunger to get it. Their team is unchanged today from that game, so I am going to be slightly contradictory here: I am opting for the energy, talent, vitality and, possibly, greater hunger of Mayo in today's encounter. But, as things stand, if the same two teams were to meet in the All-Ireland final or semi-final, I think Cork would hold the balance of advantage.

I am just as intrigued by the Armagh versus Down encounter in the curtain-raiser. My view is that Armagh are on the way down, whereas Down's star is rising.

Again, I am plumping today for the lesser experienced of the two teams, so I go for Down. However, if the same two teams were to meet in the Ulster final this year, my thinking could well be different and I might argue that Armagh's seasoned side would hold sway on such an occasion.

There are two fine games in prospect and I, for one, wouldn't be anywhere else in the world today, volcanic ash or not! Enjoy.

Sunday Independent

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