Last night, JPM gave his views on how the other quarter-final clashes might go this weekend and now he’s back with a preview of our crunch meeting on Sunday with defending champions Donegal.
After several days of intense debate the battle lines have been drawn for the game of the season for Mayo and Donegal. In some ways this match will define both our teams’ seasons and our managers’ careers. There is much to consider going into this make or break game.
Are we good enough to handle ourselves in Croke Park against top opposition? Are this Donegal team past it? Have our disjointed displays against Roscommon and London been down just to a lack of quality opposition and our team taking their feet off the gas with the result in the bag? Or are they a true reflection of where this team is actually at?
Have all the injuries and concussions for Donegal been too much to handle? Can they raise their game again after the debacle of the Ulster final? Have we yet to discover our true form and more importantly can we discover (and display) it in time for 4pm Sunday next? So many questions but the truth should be revealed come 6pm Sunday evening.
Currently we are installed as favourites with the bookies however this assessment is as much likely due to Donegal’s key injuries and failure to retain their Ulster crown rather than a judgment that Mayo are man for man a better outfit than Donegal.
They have struggled to convince in Ulster. Their win over Tyrone was classified as a great result against a top team however it must be stated that had Tyrone’s goalkeeper (and free taker) his shooting boots with him, the result could have been quite different. The outcome against Down looked in the bag in the first half however a different Down team emerged and put it right up to the champions in the second. And they looked rattled to say the least. However they prevailed and having come through these tests the national consensus was that maybe they were saving themselves for bigger battles ahead.
However if that was the case then Jim McGuinness either forgot to take Monaghan into account or just didn’t give them enough credit. And he received exactly the kick in the ass that a team deserves when they underestimate the opposition. Monaghan out thought, out fought and generally out classed completely their more illustrious opponents on that memorable day in Clones.
It is a testament to Donegal that they managed to re-group against Laois. Very few teams have managed the six-day turnaround and to win in such a short time period was an achievement in itself. The bigger question now is have the doubts regards this team’s ability to retain their All-Ireland title seeped in too far into the heads of the players? If they have it’s likely to be game over on Sunday next. But if not and they can overcome Mayo then they know they’re right back in the mix.
We have hardly lit up the championship either so far this year. Our convincing win against Galway was followed up by beating Roscommon in Castlebar. But in the final 10 minutes of that game (albeit being over) we lost our focus completely and kicked wide after wide. The London game didn’t re-ignite anyone locally or nationally of our ability to play for 70 minutes. Our reckless passing and lazy-like attitude towards decision making doesn’t set the coals alight as to our ability to defeat the tougher tests that stand in the way. Certainly we will have to have improved immensely for this battle with the current champions. If we cannot compete for the entire match then I think it’s bye-bye Mayo in this year’s championship.
Ally that with all our own injuries. It will be interesting to see exactly where Donegal target us as being weak. Certainly this is not our strongest team what with both keepers out, questions over the fitness of Ger Cafferkey (he came off in both of the previous matches), Alan Dillon, Andy Moran and Cillian O’Connor. Missing both Michael Conroy and Barry Moran. This is certainly not a full strength Mayo team.
Another angle on this match is all the bickering and back stage talking from the management. It has driven the media wild. And the national forums like Hogan Stand and GAABoard have been going crazy with insults and accusations being thrown from pillar to post by various fans who feel their team is being harshly treated.
But it’s all nonsense really. People have to see that is just mind games. The comments from Jim McGuinness regards player protection were stated to try and give his team an edge (in refereeing terms). Reports today suggest Mark McHugh might even be fit for Sunday. A remarkable recovery for a man who sounded more or less out for the season according to reports last Saturday evening.
The only question to be asked over Jimmy’s comments was his statement that his players may be deliberately targeted. This is a serious allegation. But say for instance Donegal do prevail on Sunday next and in the process Anthony Thompson or Michael Murphy clothes-line a Mayo player e.g. Kevin Mcloughlin. The press will surely turn on him, especially because of what he has said previously. But does Jimmy really care what the press think of him?
Not one bit in my opinion. Jimmy only cares about Donegal and anything that will give them an edge in the build-up to the clash he will try and use. Nothing more, nothing less. In credit James Horan has handled it well in his reply. His piece in the Irish Examiner comes across as being careful and mindful and at the same time he defends his team and sends out his own stingers towards Jimmy.
Certainly it adds a lot of spice to the match but there may be an unfortunate end to it as well. A lot of focus has turned to the referee Joe McQuillan as a result. He now has a major role to play and serious decisions to make on Sunday next.
Because of the comments made there is a distinct possibility now of players making a complete meal of any slightly mistimed tackle. And then they will go down like they had been shot. What happens then when other players start to verbally attack the referee because of perceived targeting or lack of protection? (Aside: these verbal attacks on refs are becoming way more prevalent in GAA football matches this year. It needs to be addressed.)
It’s quite possible that someone will get the line on Sunday next for something that might not be half as bad as it looks. If this is the case and these tactics are employed it will certainly spoil the game and leave a bitter taste in people’s mouths.
Personally I hope it will be a great game on Sunday. Nationally the people cannot wait for it as it promises to be one of the matches of the season. Hopefully it will not be overshadowed by comments made. As to a prediction well if Mayo do get it right, get a good start I think we will win. Simply because we have improved since last year. But all our guys must perform for 70 minutes and we must take all opportunities offered especially in the area of our free taking. If we don’t however and Donegal get an early lead well they’re nearly impossible to reel back in. I think it will be a low scoring game and a goal for either side could be decisive. There is very little between these teams. Hopefully this one will fall our way.