Time for some in-depth analysis of Sunday’s big match, time for JPM to return to the guest slot with his match preview.
Mayo and Dublin line out for the All-Ireland football final on Sunday next, September 22nd. The culmination of the GAA year and the biggest national sporting occasion in our country. How will the match go on Sunday? Everyone views it as an even contest but whereas the focus is now on team play, the fact remains that if on the day your 15 players beat their respective 15 opponents, you should win the game.
Generally the case is that both teams have star guys who they count on to carry them over the line. And the majority of winning teams have dominated because these outstanding players have triumphed in their individual battles. For those remaining, it’s a trade-off, resulting in many 50-50 tussles throughout. So at the end of the day personal combat is still very much what it’s all about.
From 1 to 22 Dublin look like having a complete package. Between the sticks is captain and key man Stephen Cluxton. The Parnells player has been a pivotal inter-county competitor for the past 11 years, winning 9 Leinster titles, 1 All-Ireland and 4 All-Stars in the process. We all know about his free taking and quick kick-outs. But he is also a very good keeper. Over 60 senior inter-county championship games to his credit and a 60% clean sheet rate in the process shows his experience and the ability to defend his personal space. Somehow dealing with him will be crucial to the outcome of this All-Ireland. Kerry showed this is possible, however the strategy question remains. Do we go for goals as much as possible rather than accepting point opportunities? And do we push up on ‘Clucko’ to try and soften his impact, or ultimately surrender early possession and re-group with a sweeper at the back? Certainly difficult subjects for James Horan and his backroom team.
Michael Dara MacAuley: While Aidan O’Shea and Seán Cavanagh have been getting all the plaudits this year, there is another unspoken midfield star that has been consistently going about his business on behalf of his team. MDMA as he is known is the power house in the middle third for the Dubs. We have already seen his driving runs on display. He had goal opportunities against both Cork and Kerry that he spurned. The worry of course is that he is getting closer all the time. Strength, pace, stamina and bravery are the key to MacAuley. A fantastic cocktail to have in the middle of the park. He will take a lot of stopping and more than likely a bit of softening as well. He is ably assisted here by Cian O’Sullivan. Similar to MacAuley he has pace and stamina. It is likely that at every opportunity this Dublin pair will drive at our defence to keep them on the back foot as much as possible.
Bernard Brogan. Having a quiet year by his own standards but the corner forward is still a lethal weapon in the modern game. The worry for Mayo fans is that we are also seeing a return to his obvious talent. His six points yield against Kerry aligned with an unlucky first-half goal attempt will resurrect his belief at competing at the highest level. It is another pivotal battle. From previous experience we know that key to restricting him is to try and knock him off his game early. Will Ger Cafferkey be the man tasked with this job? Another difficult question as if this is the case, who will take over in the middle to mind the house? If Ger is to be given the task most likely it would be Tom Cunniffe who would make the switch into the central full-back position. Chris Barrett has had a fine year but in all honesty his size is against him especially if the likes of Dean Rock or Eoghan O’Gara begin or are introduced.
There have been arguments for Tom to move to centre half-back and certainly there is merit in this. It is his natural position for his club and he does tend to dominate that area when playing there. Diarmuid Connolly or Ciarán Kilkenny are also tough customers to mark and we need reliable men to contain them. Donie Vaughan has been very impressive all year but more so because of attacking prowess. It will be interesting to see what role he takes up the next day.
Aidan O’Shea has been the most talked about and tweeted footballer this year. His youthful rugged good looks are pleasing on the eye and he has that special natural mould one expects of a West of Ireland GAA man. Ally this to his candidness in the media and you have the perfect prospect for a broadcasting sensation. He has been the star in the middle of the park for Mayo and his power performances have been the fulcrum for our winning foundation. This in turn has reflected the mass media attention, and the praise swathed upon him by the same breed. The worry for Aidan is that he has won no Celtic Cross yet.
Photo: Hogan Stand
And the national media in this country are exceptionally fickle. One moment they are your best friend and will build you up as the unbreakable pillar. However if the cracks appear they will slowly peel back the layers like an onion causing you to wince each time a new one is unfurled. And they won’t let you forget any mistakes easily, particularly if it appears at the decisive level. It’s important that Aidan realises this.
But more importantly he must also realise that we are Mayo. If we don’t prevail the national media will be waiting with jagged knives to once more point out another failing in an All-Ireland final. Aidan may only have been 6 or 7 when we lost in 1996/97 but this will mean little to the media and GAA gurus who will turn once more upon us.
Therefore he must win his personal battle the next day. Dublin of course know all this and will be targeting him. This is a lot of pressure on young shoulders. Thus far he has been up to it and the hope for all in the West is that he can handle this pressure cooker All-Ireland final, and mark his place in history with another impressive performance.
Cillian O’Connor has been the mainstay in our full-forward line all year. It would be a shame if he were to miss the final as his presence lights up the day for everyone watching. No one knows yet what the likely outcome here is and the guessing games and prayers continue among the faithful inside and outside our county. What no one can deny is that we are a stronger team with him playing. His vision, free-taking, goal scoring, composure, and instinctive ability are what separates him from the lesser lights on the Mayo team. Twice young player of the year, the man has it all. His fluency in our primary language was not unknown however the ability to converse on TG4 as naturally in Irish as English displays a maturity that is welcome from a West of Ireland man. It also solidifies the leadership, natural poise and self-assurance that he carries with him.
Since his introduction to the team Kevin McLoughlin has been Mr. Consistency in a Mayo jersey. 2013 however has not been as rewarding for him. This is as much likely due to him being targeted as a vital cog in our attack machine, and therefore coming in for more attention from opposing defences. And although he had a poor enough game in the semi-final especially in the first half, his second was much improved and showed once more that when given a little space he can exploit any defence.
Truth be told the entire team were probably on the rack that day and it was only the intervention of points from Chris Barrett and Lee Keegan late in the first half that eased the pressure. We also must thank the ref for the early second half penalty which was fortuitous to say the least. All in all the Tyrone game exposed flaws in our team particularly if we lose focus or complete commitment to the day. But this was no harm. Better for a team to get a wake up call in the semi-final rather than experience the destructive nature of what a performance like that would ensure in a final.
The unassuming stars
As management will have their homework completed snuffing out obvious threats, the opportunities also lie for lesser known players to be the game changers. This could also be the case on 22nd as well. Both teams have real quality to watch out for. On Dublin’s side are Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Mannion, Paul Flynn and Dean Rock (if he gets the nod). All are in flying form. Also although Jack McCaffrey and Ciarán Kilkenny were somewhat nullified by the hard working Kerry defence their threat remains nonetheless. And we should not forget about the side-line they hold and the talent that can be called upon. To have an All-Ireland winning captain sitting on your bench says a lot for the ability of the players on the pitch.
For ourselves we have our own stars in the making. Robbie Hennelly’s point from 55 yards against Tyrone shows his prowess at taking long range opportunities. Alan Freeman is having the season of his life and has begun to thrive at full-forward. Likewise Chris Barrett and Tom Cunniffe have shown the uncompromising no-nonsense defending required, aligned with ability to surge forward if the pressure is on our own forwards. It’s unlikely they will have as much leeway the next day to get up and score. The All-Ireland is a serious step up from all other levels and completing your primary task first is what counts at this stage. Winning their personal battles should be foremost in guys’ minds.
Mayo half- back line. Not a group of individuals, rather an individual group. Pivotal all year to our strategy to attack in waves and overrun the opposition defence. How will Dublin deal with them? One likelihood is that they will slow down these attacks by fouling high up, giving themselves time to re-group.
The outcome for this game
If they do go on to win, this team will go down as one of the greatest Mayo teams in history because of what has happened before and what it means to the county. Carpe diem is the famous Latin saying and it absolutely applies in this case. These men have no fear of Croke Park, or this Dublin team. The experience of last year’s All-Ireland will surely stand to them and we the supporters will be there in serious numbers to back them.
Much has already been discussed as regards how we start, where the match-ups should be, and what needs to be completed for us to claim victory. I would echo most of it. Perhaps a certain call for discipline should be made. There is a lot of pressure now on our guys (particularly younger fellas) and sometimes this can have an adverse effect on discipline. Being edgy or too desperate generally invites mistakes. So please God even if things are not going completely to plan, they will stay calm and concentrate as hard as possible on the strategies worked out and put in place. We have a great backroom team and management in place. Maintaining self-control and working as hard as possible for your team has been one of the mantras for James Horan’s era. It is this diligence, backroom homework, drills and hard training that have culminated in next Sunday’s date with destiny.
The players now must recognise for themselves where they are and what they have achieved so far that makes them special. From a supporter’s point of view everyone is hoping, including myself. All I can offer now is one little bit of personal advice and that again is the simple saying of Carpe diem.
“Seize the day!”