Tuesday 20 February 2018

Peter Canavan: Dublin are a great team but Sam Maguire is heading west

Logic points to another Dublin win, but Mayo look like they are timing their run perfectly

11 September 2017; Mayo manager Stephen Rochford poses for a portrait following a press conference ahead of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final at Breaffy House Hotel in Breaffy, Co Mayo. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
11 September 2017; Mayo manager Stephen Rochford poses for a portrait following a press conference ahead of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final at Breaffy House Hotel in Breaffy, Co Mayo. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Peter Canavan

All of the logic points to a Dublin win.

It’s easy to make the case for them. They haven’t lost in championship in more than three years. In fact, they don’t lose very often at all. They have big-time players and a big-time manager who hasn’t suffered defeat at the hands of Mayo in five seasons in charge.

We know they are a team in form too because the last time Dublin played, they produced one of their best performances of recent years, which is saying something. So yes, the logic says the city will be toasting one of the great teams by Sunday night.

Still, I have this nagging feeling that won’t go away. It tells me that despite everything, Mayo’s time has finally arrived.

We all know the history. The agony and the near-misses. The bridesmaid tag can weigh heavily sometimes. I know that myself from our time with Tyrone. A few of the older lads in the panel probably had a bit of baggage from 1995 and other years going into the 2003 final when we finally got over the line.

We were committed and disciplined that day but we were far from our best. In the 2005 final, when we had the comfort of a medal in our back pocket, we were much better and much more fluid.

Even though they don’t have a medal, I don’t think that’s an issue for Mayo. If the scars from previous battles were going to be a decisive factor, I think they’d be long gone from the championship by now.

I don’t buy this thing that fatigue will be an issue either. We played ten games to win that 2005 All-Ireland and Sunday is Mayo’s tenth outing too. We had no fear about our freshness that year. Playing matches regularly meant training was never particularly taxing. The media talked about how we’d have heavy legs but it was never an issue. Mayo are the same. They’re coming good at the right time, saving their best football for Croke Park.

Who will win the All Ireland football final?

A general view of the pre-match parade ahead of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

They are battle-hardened too, which is one of the biggest advantages they have on Dublin. They have been to the brink this summer. Dublin have hardly been to half-time.

I can’t recall too many teams getting to an All-Ireland final as easily as these Dublin boys have. In the back of Jim Gavin’s mind I’m sure he’s asking himself how they will react when it is finally put up to them. You can prepare and warn a team about the storm that is coming for them but you’ll never know how they will cope with that until they are right in the moment.

Mayo will bring them to the wire. They have shown they have been able to fly at Dublin’s altitude for a few years now. Last year in both finals they got so much right. Their match-ups were good. They were physical and confrontational, they went after the kick-outs at the right time. The only aspect they didn’t seem to have covered was the impact of Dublin’s bench. That’s effectively what won the game for Dublin last year.

And there’s no doubt they have an edge in that respect here. The list of players they can bring in is frightening. Two former Footballers of the Year in Bernard Brogan and Michael Darragh Macauley. Kevin McManamon. Possibly Paul Flynn if he doesn’t start. Eoghan O’Gara is there too if they need a physical presence inside.

Mayo aren’t as well stocked. They will get something out of Paddy Durcan – assuming he doesn’t start. Conor Loftus has been good at times too and Stephen Coen gives them plenty of energy.

Admittedly, Jim Gavin holds the cards in that respect but again you wonder about the battle-readiness of some of those Dublin players.

They have been coming into matches that were already won or their team was very comfortable. I’d expect them to be coming into a much different game on Sunday.

That’s not a sleight on Dublin. They have a brilliant team with a fantastic attitude. You could have accused some Dublin teams of the past of being too showbiz and into the razzmatazz but not this bunch. Their willingness to sacrifice for the collective is incredible. 

For me their most impressive aspect is the work-rate of their forwards. Dean Rock, Paddy Andrews and Paul Mannion are very skilled but you’ll see them doing the less glamorous stuff too like chasing back, making tackles and turning over the ball.

Being on the verge of winning three All-Irelands in a row says everything you need to know about them as a team. But winning for so long leaves you vulnerable, as does producing one of your best performances in the semi-final. It takes a lot to get back up to that level in a matter of weeks.

So it’s well set up for a huge day. There are some brilliant sub-plots at play too. We have two of the best exponents of the kick-out in the country going head to head. Two of the best attacking half-backs in Leeroy Keegan and Jack McCaffrey on opposing sides. Big men like Brian Fenton and Aidan O’Shea crashing into each other in the middle third. They are all strands that can come together and make a brilliant final.

It will be tight but it feels set up for Mayo. They have the personnel and the belief to finally do it on Sunday.

They have been so close in the past and that will stand to them here. As a group they are well used to adversity. They have seen championship lives flash before their eyes a few times this summer so they won’t panic if things go against them early on.

They have good players in top form. Aidan O’Shea is motoring well. Cillian O’Connor too. I don’t think Andy Moran has played better.

They will have to be ruthless, however. Against Kerry they had that streak in them. When the goal chances presented themselves they took them. They’ll have to take almost everything that comes their way on Sunday afternoon. But they are capable of that.

Yes, the logic points to a Dublin win, but it just feels like Mayo’s name is on the cup.

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