Mayo sim­ply can­not al­low Dublin to set­tle

The Kerryman (North Kerry) - - SPORT -

‘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.

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