Mayo simply cannot allow Dublin to settle
‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.. Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage... The game’s afoot: Follow your spirit’
King Henry from Shakespeare’s Henry V
BACK again, the nearly men. They’ve got more bouncebackability than a rubber band. Eventually, of course, that elasticity will exhaust itself. The band will snap. Mayo will fall back into the pack.
It feels like we say this every year, but there really is this feeling of now or never for this bunch of Mayo footballers. Their age profile indicates as much. Mayo are an older team than Kerry and people in the Kingdom haven’t been shy about demanding change to their team of late.
Keith Higgins and Andy Moran can’t keep going at the rate they are forever. Time and tide and all of that. Even outside of that – and admittedly most of the team is in the mid to late twenties sweet spot – defeat this time would surely represent one knock-back too many.
It’s says a lot about them that they’re the story this week. That Dublin are on the brink of creating a dynasty is almost an after thought. This week and this final is all about Mayo. What will they do? What can they do? How can they do it? It’s all about them. They’re the irresistible force. Dublin are the immovable outfit.
This is an Irish thing we suppose, this grá for the underdog. It’s also simply the case that Mayo are the better story. The trials and tribulations, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, are all theirs.
We can all relate to Mayo. Dublin? Not so much. We can marvel at them. We can be wowed by the things they do. We can admire individual players and admire what Jim Gavin has done.
What we can’t do is become emotionally invested in them. Dublin are a behemoth. They’re Starbucks, ubiquitous and relentless. Mayo are much more like a start-up. Plucky and making do as best they can with what they have.
Sometimes they do things others never would. Sometimes they work – the Aidan O’Shea experiment in the semi-final was a qualified success overall. Other times they don’t – the decision to start Rob Hennelly in last year’s final backfired badly.
That’s the nature of a start-up, nimble and willing to throw a curve ball from time-to-time. Would you be in any way surprised if the Mayo brain-trust tried something a little left field for Sunday’s final? No? Us neither. Whether they should or not is a different question entirely.
Mayo’s best bet for Sunday, we humbly suggest, is to thine own selves be true. To do the things that got them to where they are. To do the things that brought them to within inches of seeing off Dublin in four games – including two replays – across the past three seasons. Simply put Mayo need to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war. They need to get in Dublin’s face. They need to upset Dublin’s natural rhythm. Take a look at what Tyrone did and do close to the opposite.
Mickey Harte’s side left Dublin to play the game on their terms. To a degree, to be sure, Dublin mirrored what Tyrone were doing and simply executed the Mickey Harte game plan more effectively, more so they’re just too clever to allow themselves get sucked in and caught on the counter.
Giving Dublin the ball, standing off them, allowing them to ping the ball around at will, to poke and prod and explore and expose weaknesses is a recipe for disaster. The last thing you want to do is give Dublin time and space. Mayo won’t. They’re about the only team in the country with the pace and the stamina to go blow-for-blow with the sky blues. We’d be very surprised if Mayo wilt or fade or throw in the towel.
On the evidence of the two games with Kerry Stephen Rochford’s side are operating at a higher level now than even last year. Their main problem, however, remains what it’s been for far too long – they don’t get the scores their endeavours merit (and yes their forward line is playing really well at the moment).
The westerners were almost beaten by a Kerry team they were clearly superior to and even once they’d opened out a six point lead in the replay, struggled until quite late on to put a lid on it. If Mayo are five points clear with fifteen minutes to go could you trust them to see it out? Probably not and that’s a big problem. Mayo’s best bet for victory would be to surge over the last fifteen minutes, get their lead without enough time on the board for Dublin to reel them in.
How likely is that considering Dublin’s huge strength in depth on the bench? Jim Gavin can call upon (assuming they doesn’t start) Diarmuid Connolly, Bernard Brogan, Eoghan O’Gara and Kevin McManamon down the back stretch. Mayo simply don’t have those type of resources. As Jim McGuinness in his Irish Times column suggested this week, cold hard logic points to a Dublin victory. Mayo’s task then is to upend that logic, to make it helter skelter, to impose themselves on Dublin and not have it the other way around. Mayo can do it.
As good old Billy Shakespeare might say, the game’s afoot.