As the long lead-in continues to our All-Ireland semi-final clash with the Dubs, I’m delighted to welcome FourGoal McGee back into the guest slot to provide some thoughts on the coming battle.
It’s a bit like the time between storms. We all know what the last one was like but we are keen to speculate on the damage that the next one could do. And we all have a view, because we have seen many storms before, and though we are not in control of what will happen, we like to raise what we think are the factors that will affect the outcome. Will we get blown away? (We like to think that we are a hardy bunch and that this will not transpire). Will we come through unscathed? (This is the big storm that did damage last year and we could feel the brunt of it this year). But maybe it blew itself out last year? (Maybe, it certainly doesn’t look as potent as last year but it could strengthen in the next two and a half weeks).
But of course, it’s not the weather that concerns us, it’s much more important, it’s football!
We are back where we wanted to be, playing championship football in September, albeit still in the semi-final. It is actually remarkable, for a county that is dismissed by the professional commentators, that we get to Croke Park so often. And if you look at the next two weeks, a team in an All-Ireland (juniors), two teams in All-Ireland semis, the ladies team in the quarters. And that on top of the lads getting to the NFL Division 1 final earlier in the year with the ladies winning Division 2. What most other counties would not give for the run we get every year. We really do have a mighty county that keeps us in excitement for so much of the year.
So what can be said then about Sunday 2nd September? Well a few things are different about Mayo this year:
- We have trained to peak in September. This is obvious from the way the team seems to have that bit extra towards the end of matches. I said before the Sligo match that Sligo would be in it for a good while but that Mayo’s strength would be the telling factor. Sligo had actually peaked for Galway as they seemed to begin their speedwork earlier than we did. Mayo were infinitely better against Down, but then Down actually peaked against Monaghan. So we are improving with every game. Another step chance will be evident the next day.
- We can cope with being without a key man. Remember against the Dubs in Castlebar? No Cafferkey, but Shane McHale stepped in and was outstanding. Remember when we didn’t have Aidan O’Shea against Kerry. We were going to get bet out the gate, but we won instead. So losing a key player is a loss, but the dynamic in the team now lends itself to producing replacements who perform to the highest level when the call to arms is made. But Andy’s loss is different, I hear you say. Yes, it is. But that just means that the call to arms is even louder and the response must be even greater. I believe that we have the men in the squad to take up the fight. There are numerous permutations being thrown around. I for one have faith in JH and his merry men to have a Plan B ready to unleash on Dublin. I would even expect there to be a Plan C that could emerge as well to keep Gilroy on his toes.
- Our backs are one of the tightest units around now. We have dispensed with the sweeper nonsense and the pressure we put on the ball carrier is immense. Very little is scored against us from play, particularly in the second halves of games.
- We have learned some of the dark arts. For years we were the nice guys. Mayo footballers were so nice that opposing teams would nearly bring their sisters along cos the Mayo lads were so nice. I’m not sure about the sisters now, but there is an edge to Mayo that was missing before. We won’t be pushed around anymore. To me that is a positive development.
And what of Dublin?
- They have not yet peaked. Dublin would have a similar training plan to ours, so laboured performances up to now should not be given huge importance. On 2nd of September they will be much faster, they will be in front of their adoring faithful and just one goal could set them on fire.
- Taking Brennan out of the No.6 shirt has strengthened them at the back and they are now difficult to score against. But this year, they haven’t been playing like a team. Men like Connolly have been sussed out. Backs now know that marking him tightly neutralises him. The Brogans are misfiring all year. For Dublin’s supporters, this is a cause for concern.
- They are better at controlling the pace of the game than any other team. But there really should be a time limit on the space between a free is awarded and when it is taken. At the end of the Laois game, they used a full 2 minutes to prepare for a free and only a minute of injury time was added. In the meantime, the Laois rhythm was broken. However, refs seem to think that a forward can take too long over a free, but a goalkeeper cannot. Fair? You tell me! But they will do everything in their power to break up the rhythm of their opponents, making them difficult to beat.
- One of the most telling points was brought to my attention by my son. He is born and reared in Dublin and is proud to be a Dub, but at 17 years old is one of the most shrewd young lads I have ever seen to read a game. I asked him what did he think was missing in Dublin this year and without hesitation he replied “Mickey Whelan”. And he is right. Last year, Mickey gave them that extra little bit that brought them from 4 points down with 6 to go to being winners. This year Mickey is not there. But will they find the X Factor from somewhere else? Maybe, maybe not.
A fascinating contest awaits. There is no doubt that we are in better shape for this storm than in previous times. But what type of storm will show up, that’s the question!
Keep the Faith!