The pressure pot


So here we are, at the final stage of another season of football.  In a championship of ups and downs, what are undoubtedly the two best teams in the country have made it to the All-Ireland final; the only difference is that one has a few medals to back up that statement.  But this could all change come Sunday.

Over the last five years, both Mayo and Dublin have provided gladiator like battles which have left fans and football pundits and purists alike to fawn over. The infamous Hill-gate where Mayo warmed up in front of Hill 16 in 2006, the ten-point semi-final Mayo lead  in 2012 that was sabotaged by Dublin where they very  nearly stole victory,  the  intense battle of tactics and wits where Dublin beat Mayo both on and off the field, the epic drawn and replay showdowns  of 2015.



The rivalry between these teams would stand up to any famous GAA battles and has given the sport a wonderful lease of life over the last 5-6 years. In just a few days from now, they’ll renew that rivalry once again to a packed house in Croke Park. It has all the makings of a classic and will test the heart rates of any fan lucky enough to get their hands on that golden ticket.

For years (65, if you want to be technical about it) generations of Mayo fans have not only gone up to watch their team lose  but get destroyed by stronger opposition. This mental stigma and feeling of fear and failure has affected a lot of Mayo teams who in the past have failed to deliver on the biggest stage.  Dublin, do not carry such emotional baggage attached to their jerseys and have enjoyed a number of great All-Ireland victories down through the years.

Dublin have racked up 24 championship titles to Mayo’s three in the time since the GAA formed.  Both teams have enjoyed purple patches of form over the last decade but only one has witnessed glory within that space of time. Not since the year of 1951 has a Mayo team brought Sam Maguire past the Shannon and every year that passes that fact weighs more and more heavily on both fans and players.

For six years, Mayo have successfully mixed in with the elite of championship football, through the fruits and hard labour of previous manager James Horan. Ultimately, the class of 2011 failed to pass the big final exam after appearances in deciders in 2012 and 2013. Sometimes life has a funny way of working out, though, and that squad who failed on the last two occasions now find themselves seventy minutes away from another chance to pass that exact same exam. The one which has haunted Mayo students for decades.

Dublin in contrast, have won the three All-Irelands in the space of the first half of this decade so far.  A win on Sunday would mean a third for Jim Gavin, who took over proceedings from Pat Gilroy three years ago. Gilroy was the man who successfully guided the Metropolitans to All-Ireland glory in 2011, a feat they hadn’t managed since 1995.

It is fair to say that Dublin have been the top team of the last few years, with Mayo, Kerry and Donegal not far behind. All the teams just mentioned have landed Sam inside the past five years, all except for Mayo. But within those last few years, there has only been one team in the country that has continued to come back and march against all the odds. Defeat seems to have strengthened this Mayo team and we will only know on Sunday evening if the lessons they have learned from doing so will be enough to take down this Dublin machine.

For five years, Mayo have bounced back consistently from All-Ireland defeats to be a regular contender in the football championship. The mental and physical scars the county has endured and accumulated over the last few decades would be enough to make any player want to give up the game and hang their boots. Not so for this team.  If sport was based on moral value, Mayo would have 65 All-Irelands securely locked away in MacHale Park but neither sport nor indeed anything in life is based on moral support. You earn your success.

Dublin are where they are now because they earned  it. This was done with years of strong work building a competitive team and regularly losing quarter and semi-finals in the early to late noughties. Fans and pundits alike underestimate this. This Dublin team are no fluke. It is through defeat that a team learns how to win and it is through defeat Dublin learned how to make Hill 16 smile again. 

Let no-one be fooled, however: going for back-to-back titles has pressure itself and Dublin, like Mayo, will have to play out of their skins on Sunday to win the game.



If Mayo can learn one thing about Dublin’s success, it is how it was built on regularly competing with the top teams every year. And this is exactly what this Mayo team have done within the last few years. Time will tell if Mayo’s competitive attitude will be enough to get them over the line. It worked for Dublin in 2011. In the words of Mayo stalwart Andy Moran: “Why Not?”

Let there be no doubt.  Croke Park will be a fortress of pressure next  Sunday and victory will be ultimately be decided on which team handles it better.

We will know the answers to this puzzle very soon.

Now someone get me a bleedin’ ticket!

11 thoughts on “The pressure pot

  1. Nothing in the past should have any bearing on the game on Sunday, once the ball is thrown in, other than the preparation that has gone into it. The wins or losses of the past are history – dead and gone and largely irrelevant. As Pat Lamm said they must acknowledge the past, not deny it, but then compartmentalise it, leave it to one side and focus on what needs to be done from 3:30 onwards and nothing else. We will be the victims of history only if we choose to be.

  2. Im not usually suspious or religous in any way but going true Foxford this evening on train i said a wee prayer to myself.

  3. The more I think about this match the more I believe the middle 8 battle is going to be absolutely crucial to Mayo having a chance to win the match. The half forward line must bring more than against the Dubs in the replay last year. If we get on top of them in the middle then we have the platform to win the match. Also not conceeding goals is critical it has killed us against them the last few years.

  4. ‘…..For years…………….generations of Mayo fans have not only gone up to watch their team lose but get destroyed by stronger opposition……’


    I enjoyed your piece above, but don’t agree with the above line………..Let’s give ourselves a bit of credit………..We’ve been competitive in many AIFs and only narrowly lost out. The ‘destroyed’ in my view only applies to the 2004 and 2006 Kerry games.

  5. Getting more confident by the day. One thing niggling me this morning. I think we have 2 of the finest keepers in the Country in Clarke and Hennelly. Choosing between them is almost impossible. For overall command if the square and giving that extra bit of confidence to the backs, Clarke would shade it for me. However I do think his kick outs are a concern. When the Dubd push up a stop the short ones, will he be able to find a man. I think the Dubs will be targeting this. The re starts will be crucial for us at both ends and we now Cluxton is a master in this area, even though I would but both of our keepers ahead of him in terms of minding their goal. We certainly will have to get this right on Sunday to win. Could a surprise be in store on this one to get our kick outs to Mayo men?

  6. Having read the article and the comment from Martyk I went to the archives. How bad a defeat is depends on the thickness of the skin. I give the following categories

    1-2 we should have won that
    3-5 if only we….
    6-10 that didn’t reflect our….
    11-20 for the love of……
    So since 1955 we have lost 22 times in the All Ireland Series (QF/SF/F

    Margin Occurences
    1-2. 4
    3-5. 8
    6-10. 7
    11-20. 3

    Average Margin. 5.95

    1 Point 55 Dublin 69 Kerry 96 Meath 13 Dublin
    Worst 20 Cork 93
    We have lost to Dublin 4 Meath 4 Kerry 7 Cork 4 Donegal 2
    Now people can judge for themselves
    Lest I be accused of negativity we have won 16
    1-2. 4
    3-5. 6
    6-10. 4
    10 -20 2
    Average winning margin 4.75
    Biggest win Donegal 13 on 13
    Of course by 5 on Sunday none of this will matter when we are champions. HON MAYO

  7. O’ Rourke and O’Se totally wrote us off on RTE Radio 1 preview this morning. O’Rourke reckoned only way we could win this year would be to get 3 goals in last 10 mins. Dubs much better this year and Mayo no form. Hopefully loads more of this in run up to Sunday. It has to be at back of minds of Dubs, best team ever, unbeatable etc etc. Hon Mayo!

  8. Honestly I don’t know why the media are bothing with analysis. They have the same old heads saying the same old thing, really going out on a limb saying Dublin will win. Why don’t they save giving them lads their appearance money

    The gas thing is, if they are wrong, they’ll ask the same heads to cast their considered opinions over just what happened.
    My view is that if you were that far wrong you shouldn’t be asked again.

    If that applied, so not only might we finally win the all Ireland we could put an end to Brolly, O’Rourke and Spillane at the same time! Wouldn’t that be sweet

  9. justoutsideballagh I’d agree with your premise on the keepers. As excellent as Clarke is his kick outs aren’t of the same quality not does he posses the same range as Hennelly. When you look the Dublin/Kerry semi Dublin pushed up most of the time on the Kerry kick outs and Kelly was forced to go long. As a result, Kerry really struggled to retain the majority of their own kick outs. We’d have to expect the same on Sunday. Kelly and Clarkes long kick outs are similar as the trajectory is high with a slow dropping ball which is easy to break, this makes securing possession a lottery. Also, you can be sure Dublin will have studied Clarkes kick outs to death over the last 3 weeks. Putting Hennelly in will throw up an interesting curve ball, his range of restarts will give us a massive chance to retain possession from our own restarts which are key against Dublin as they are so efficient in converting possessions to scores. He is also an option for the longer frees which Cillian is taking at the edge of his range at the moment and as a result missing a good percentage of them. Its not without risk as Clarke is better under the high ball and has better command of the the box. However, its a risk worth taking in my opinion.

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