West or Northwest?

He’s been previewing matches all summer and now I’m delighted to welcome JPM back into the guest slot to preview the biggest game of all in the 2012 championship.

West or Northwest? If you were travelling those directions where would it take you? Well the answer of course depends on from where you originally set out. Both Mayo and Donegal set out at the beginning of this year from roughly the same geographical location. And both began from more or less the same championship peaks they had reached in 2011. Lo and behold now at the culmination of the GAA football year 2012, both have arrived on a collision course at the gates to the promised land. But only one team can pass through, the other must give way. It’s like Wellington versus Napoleon once more, except its now Jimmy versus James who are meeting at Waterloo.

Photo: Mayo Mick

Currently Paddy Power view Donegal as being better experienced and has installed them as hot favourites to triumph. Paddy may be correct. Mayo have been in this similar position in recent years and have imploded (sometimes spectacularly) on those occasions. But Paddy has also been wrong before. The feeling is that there’s much more at play here than just theoretical assumption of one side being better that the other. It’s like a game of poker now. Who holds the better cards and more importantly how do they play them? Tactics, passion, discipline, composure and luck. Lots of ingredients to take into account, and they will all have a part to play in this historic battle.

Tactically all year Donegal have been brilliant and the strategies they have employed have guided them safely to this point. To date in their six matches in the championship they have scored 6-87 or an average of 1-14 per game. Their renowned defence has conceded 3-63 or an average of just 12 points per game in the process. Every match they have essentially began with the same formation and the same game plan. The methods they employ are simple enough. They start by defending in numbers before rampaging forward together on any counter attacking opportunities. There is no reason now to doubt a change in tactics for this All-Ireland final. Perhaps it will be tweaked, however it will be a major shock if they don’t turn up on Sunday with the same rough line-up of one goalie, nine backs, two midfielders and two/three attacking forwards.

In terms of passion it is difficult to argue against a more passionate person that Jim McGuinness. Three times he applied for the position of Donegal manager. It culminated in the final application when he was the only realistic candidate left available. And when asked in the interview why he wanted the job, his simple (and brilliant) answer was that he wanted to make Donegal players loved once more by their supporters. That one sentence sums up McGuinness’s attitude and passion for his home county. And this team is a mirror image of everything he stands for.

Donegal all year have also been very composed. They have shown in retaining the Ulster title that they have the moral fibre to win the hard and tight games. They can stare you down, sit it out and suck the life out of the opposition before applying the crushing blows to win the battle. And they have only improved since then. In beating Kerry and Cork they have displayed the determination and self-belief necessary against top opposition. In both these games at crucial stages players held their nerves in front of the posts to get the vital scores to see them home.

Have they been lucky this year? Well perhaps not but certainly towards the latter end of this years championship little things have fallen their way. Their goal against Kerry direct from the sideline. Kerry also losing their pivotal free taker Bryan Sheehan through injury. In fact the kingdom had so many wounded that day that the Gooch had to play on through injury as all their subs had been used up. Against Cork, after beating four players, Colm O’Neill’s goal bound effort came back off the crossbar at a crucial stage in the match. You could argue of course that teams make their own luck, and there is certainly a case for this too. But when compared to Mayo, Donegal have certainly had a far less troublesome season than ourselves.

One could say we were lucky in Connacht to avoid Galway however the suspicion is that Sligo were primed this year for a right crack at the Connacht title. Ultimately Barry Moran’s MOTM display in that match won the silverware for us. In terms of luck in the quarter-final, well suffice to say that the season ending injury to team captain Andy Moran places that condition firmly in the negative category.

In the semi-final Dublin lost Alan Brogan. We lost Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan, Enda Varley, Kevin McLoughlin, and Kevin Keane in that match. Ger Cafferkey was nearly knocked out cold but he was probably whispered to get up and continue as there were no subs left on the bench. When you think about it, it’s not surprising really that Dublin nearly turned that game into our worst nightmare. It’s a testament to the team that they held their nerve to win and it wasn’t down to luck on the day that saw them through after 77 minutes.

That semi-final match was also a very passionate and intense affair. Dublin displayed serious intensity especially in the second half. Both sets of supporters had their hands on their heads with their pulses racing as the clock ticked slowly along towards the final whistle. The match itself really exposed our lads to the level that is necessary to get over the line and win these really big games. It’s expected that they will have learned much from this experience and they can use it now to their advantage against what will also be a very intense encounter on Sunday next.

It will be fascinating also to see our own tactics and what we have in store for the boys from the North.  Our midfield and defence have really been fantastic all season. True, Donal Vaughan did not have one of his better games against Dublin however Donegal will be a different kettle of fish. Chances are he could have no one to mark in this match and so might have plenty of opportunity to rampage forward. Same with Lee Keegan and Keith Higgins.

Barry Moran and Aidan O’Shea should fare out okay but I don’t expect them to walk all over this Donegal midfield. This is the team who against Alan O’Connor and Cork’s much vaunted height and strength in the middle that Neil Gallagher destroyed in the semi-final. Also Rory Kavanagh has been fundamental all season to the team in getting up and down the pitch to score vital points. Suffice to say that Barry and Aidan will have their work cut out for them here. But it certainly must be an area we should be targeting to do well in. Winning the battles around the middle gives every team the platform to build upon and Mayo all year have been using this to our advantage.

In terms of composure all year our forwards have shown great poise in front of goal. In total in this year’s championship we have scored 7-66 in four games or roughly an average of 2-16 per match. No one expects this average to continue against the meanest defence in the country but Mayo this year have regularly been able to put scores on the board. The only worry for us was that there were several opportunities against Dublin in the second half when gilt-edged chances were spurned. Jason Doherty, Cillian O’Connor and Michael Conroy all missed one-on-one opportunities. In fairness no one can deny that guys do make mistakes. They are human after all. But to succeed, generally chances like those must be taken if they become available.

However it was better to miss them in that semi-final rather than the final. And remember also Mayo still won! The belief now is that these players have learned much from those experiences and have grown again. So even greater composure will now come on board and to the fore in this final battle.

And this is a crucial point. All year and in every game Mayo have been an improving side. And we still have more room to move up again to another level after the semi-final. Donegal on the other hand have been playing at a serious peak all season and especially in the All-Ireland series. The impression is that there is not as much opportunity for them to improve much more.

Overall to win this All-Ireland many things will have to go our way. But remember, it’s the same case for Donegal. Both teams have won back-to-back titles in their respective provinces and both have beaten teams from the so-called top three.  Thus far no team has shown the shrewdness or discipline required for 70 minutes to beat either of us.

Whoever now can fend off the other will obtain the ultimate glory, and can set sail for home once more with the bounty of Sam Maguire on board.  The hope is that our guys will be the ones who have improved the most and can prevail in this their greatest battle. Already they are ingrained in our history as a terrific Mayo team. The wish now of all Mayo supporters is that they will defy Paddy Power and all the naysayers on Sunday next. And together around 6pm we will all finally retire down Jones Road humming Waterloo Sunset in contentment.

10 thoughts on “West or Northwest?

  1. Great piece, I tend to also harbour the hope that we have the greater capacity to improve. I see the match as being a game of poker and in my opinion we know a bit more about their hand and how they will play it. If we play to our potential and don’t fall into any clueless traps, we can do it. I reckon we are a bit more streetwise this time around and will have something to counteract their system if things aren’t working(last thing we want is another donaghy-esque moment). Have a good feeling about Sunday.

    On another note, are there any places around the city which are traditionnally good hunting grounds for tickets on the morning of the match. I have never been ticketless so late, so running out of ideas!

    Anyway please god everyone will get sorted and we’ll have one of those special days. Come on mayo

  2. heading for the flight, last message before next week some time. Will I be cursing our luck or praising a certain player? who the hell knows.
    My final scoreline is
    Mayo 1 14
    donegal 13

    jason doc gets the goal near the start of the game.
    Seriously though, if nobody gets injured in the game I am very confident in this teams ability to win SAM MAGUIRE.
    donegals nerves could be a problem, if i were horan i would go for the throat from the off.
    Best of luck to all involved and I hope you all enjoy the weekend, I will be at the game, just watch out for a fella dressed in green and red, that”ll be meself.

  3. Good piece JPM.
    Logically, and on paper, Donegal are the better team and should win. Playing to a system, have been incredibly consistent, have suffered no injuries, exceptionally fit, most peoplr have them, rightly, as favourites. Mayo, with their leader Andy Moran out, have had a far easier path, do not possess forwards in their inside line of the same calibre as Murphy, McFadden, McBrearty. It should be Donegal.
    But…
    Donegal have played Tyrone, Kerry, Cork. They have played exceptionally well in all those games and have had to. The hope is that they cannot peak every day in the same fashion.
    The hype will hopefully have played a part. Mayo have done well in trying to keep some modicum of calm – by all accounts, the hype has been unnatural in Donegal. Hopefully, Mayo people’s experience of All Ireland finals has lead to a degree of caution and certainly a calming of the hype that was seen in ’89 and ’96. This can only play to Mayo’s advantage.
    All this talk of Mayo’s fitness being poor. Music to James Horan’s ears. How much motivation does a man need to keep running? As evidenced the last day, it’s a 23 man game. Mayo have Cian O’Neill training them. They’re not that unfit!!
    The feeling that this is very reminiscent of 1998 – Kildare, so fit and hyped up against Galway, a ‘lovely’ footballing team. A similar result would be just the ticket!!
    Certainly, I really do feel and hope that this the year. However – a lot of things need to go right for Mayo. James Horan and Cian O’Neill need to have their work done. Donegal, as it stand are the better team and the better bet. However, favourites don’t always win and I think Mayo are set up to cause a surprise and put this ’61 year famine’ nonsense to bed! Maigh Eo Abú!

  4. Good article JPM.
    I posted this on a previous thread but I think it is more appropraiate here:
    Defensive systems like systems in any other aspect of life can only cope with what they were designed to cope with – give them different problems and they are typicallly fcuked!
    The ‘Donegal so called system’ was designed to defend against the handpassing game and it is effective against such a predictable approach. Cork had 100 hand passes to Donegals 10 at one stage in the semifinal and yet the scores were even – Lesson!! HAND PASSING ON ITS OWN WILL GET YOU NOWHERE. We need to use every and any approach available – high skyscrapers into the square – clever solos + dummies – diagonal bullets into space – off the shoulder running – bulldozing (by those big enough to do the like) – long distance kicks – soft frees – and anything else you can think of. Unpredictability and variety will be the key to screw up ‘the system’.
    Paul Galvin put it well – he said you have to kinda pull the rug from under them from early on – and boy dont we know what that felt like in 04 06 when Kerry did it to us! You simply cannot be predictable! Seamie O sea, Geraghty and Gibbons offer us interesting options in that department as does Keith Higgins as an attacking 1/2 back! Shuffle the pack a little is what i say. Give them reason to doubt their ‘so called system’ and watch it crumble……….and watch it crumble!
    Mayo by a snot!

  5. ——–PLEASE TAKE NOTE———-

    On a note of cautin, the fever has caught up with Mayo by now, but anyone leaving Mayo for Dublin tomorow leave a light on in the house & or a car outside, loads of breakin;s in rural Mayo as I know to my cost, certain people (if thats the right word) will target an empty house, so make sure to leave no money or valuables in the house! Also Croke Park may cancel any tickets that have been bought from a tout or online auction that are going crazy prices, so be warned, this happened for the Hurling Final only 2 weeks ago.
    Loads of rumours about this one & that one being injured, it was always thus, I remember Liam McHale was not going to start in 96, or so everyone had heard, from someone that knew someone. Take no heed, Its beautifully simple, its a simple game we need to score more than Donegal, nothing more, nothing less, we have a team capable of doing just that & a defence cabable of restricting them like they havent been restricted so far this year, I spoke briefly last night to James Horan, he’s confident as to how his team will perform. Confidence is worth another 5 to 10 % in a game, so lets have no negativity , OUR A GAME WILL BE TOO GOOD FOR DONEGAL< but dont get carried away either. Hopefully I should be sorted out with a ticket by Sunday, so all going well see ye all there, Enjoy every second of it, makes you feel alive, dosent it. Com'On MAYO

  6. The outsiders have a top panel coming from great U21 and minor teams and a nice age average,best CV of the two teams.Kildare were supposed the fittest team in the land this year but as it proved again fitness is just but one aspect of a team.
    Weather promised good for afternoon,bookies laying 5/1 half/full time so good luck to all.

  7. Best of luck to Mayo.Win or lose, they have given us a marvellous season and will be back. This may be their best chance however. I do not foresee a collapse like 2004 or 2006 as the fear factor of Kery is gone. I agree with a previous poster that if an answer has been found to Donegal’s “System”, they may not have anything else left in the tank. I have every confidence that JH has done his homework in this regard. This will keep us in the game and it will come down to the decision of the Gods on whom they decide to smile on Sunday.And surely on that basis, we are the ones most entitled….

  8. Lads all I am really looking for tomorrow is for our team to play to their potential, get a fair rub of the green and that the ref isnt the talking point after that game. If those 3 things happen and we lose well, while I cant say I’ll be happy, I dont be too distraught as I feel this team is on a 3 year cycle and we are more than capable of being back here this time next year.

  9. Great opening preview on the match by JPM – he seems to have covered all the angles. He talks of “tactics, passion, discipline and composure” – all very important ingredients necessary to win an All Ireland, and we hope Mayo won’t be lacking in any of those areas. But there’s another very important component to the game and Donegal have it in spades, and that,s intensity. This year neither Kerry or Cork could cope with the shear intensity of the Donegal tackling and they managed to do this without giving away to many frees. For us to succeed, we will need to apply that same level of intensity, while at the same time find a way of coping with theirs.

    This is shaping up to be a real humdinger of a match, where young men will become hero’s – lets hope those hero’s are wearing the Green and Red of Mayo !!!

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