Tuesday 21 November 2017

Brid Stack: Get set for a titanic fight to the finish

Sarah Rowe and Niamh Kelly celebrate Mayo’s semi-final win over Cork. Photo: Sam Barnes / Sportsfile
Sarah Rowe and Niamh Kelly celebrate Mayo’s semi-final win over Cork. Photo: Sam Barnes / Sportsfile

Brid Stack

Mayo and Dublin have been the stand-out teams in this year's championship, but what adds to the intrigue of today's final is what's there when you scratch the surface. They are both hurting, both have everything to prove and at the same time have the potential to achieve so much.

For Dublin, having narrowly lost the last three All-Ireland finals, and Mayo, who have been courageously chasing glory since their last All-Ireland victory in 2003, the stakes are at their highest.

Mick Bohan was in charge of the Dublin team that lost to Mayo back in 2003. Having re-assumed his role as manager this year, it is evident his focus on skills acquisition has paid dividends.

Dublin are playing with abandon, they are fitter, stronger and more confident in their abilities and always seem to ensure that their best kickers are at the end of each play.

Mayo are traditional footballers and for as long as I have watched them, their skill has always been a huge factor in ensuring they secure crucial victories. The influence that Frank Browne has on this crop of players is noteworthy and the ownership he gives his players has allowed the team to blossom.

Not only are they talented footballers, but they now have an unquenchable belief that they can get across the line when it matters most.

The respective full-forward lines will have a huge say in the outcome of today's game. Dublin have assembled one of the hardest-working forward lines in the country. The roles Nicole Owens and Noelle Healy are playing are admirable. Their constant movement and tracking back when necessary has allowed a lot more space and scope for Sinéad Aherne to punish defences. In the last two championship games, Aherne has amassed 3-16. This is testament to the ruthlessness of the Dublin attack.

Similarly, the Mayo full-forward line has been causing huge headaches for opposing defences. Cora Staunton is the heart of this Mayo attack and feeding off her are the talented young duo of Grace Kelly and Sarah Rowe. Niamh Kelly has also been very impressive at centre-forward and has added another dimension to the Mayo attack.

Staunton has been punching holes in defences for a long time now and this year is no different. Her experience and awareness are invaluable and, along with the long-serving Yvonne Byrne and Martha Carter, they are a force to be reckoned with. They know that this could be their last chance of All-Ireland glory so they will be even more determined.

Given the calibre of forwards both teams possess, whichever team can limit the supply of good ball will fancy their chances. Outfield pressure is vital against a potent full-forward line and gives defenders a greater chance of pre-empting scoring threats.

The battle for midfield supremacy will be crucial today. The pairing of Aileen Gilroy and Fiona McHale has been the springboard for Mayo's march to the final. Gilroy has used her electrifying pace to devastating affect, cutting open defences and scoring at will. McHale has assumed a more defensive role given her physicality and ball-carrying ability.

The Dublin pairing of Olwen Carey and Lauren Magee adopt similar roles. Magee has proven herself to have an eye for goal having scored 1-1 in this year's Leinster final versus Westmeath.

Sinéad Goldrick, though lining out at wing-back, is a commanding presence and could figure as a third midfielder given her tendency to attack at every opportunity.

These teams have both displayed tigerish hunger on their paths to the finals. Having had the more hard-fought route, Mayo have displayed a renewed determination that is backboned by a strong team spirit.

Dublin have not really been tested in the championship to date, but have shown how difficult they can be to contain with their strong running game and selfless teamwork.

Having played against both teams on many occasions, it's obvious that they have plenty of similar traits. Both are highly skilful, possess massive work-rates and are hugely motivated to succeed. However, anything can happen on All-Ireland final day. Plans and tactics can be ineffective, communication can become muted, and the bench could impact in a big way. Team spirit is tested to the utmost.

Dublin have been ruthless this season, having scored 18 goals in their last four championship games. If Mayo can curtail their strong running game, then we are in for a titanic battle, one both teams feel they must win.

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