Finishing power tilts the verdict towards Dublin
Dublin will be better able to raise the tempo in the final quarter than Mayo
Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly and Lee Keegan of Mayo will renew their rivalry in Sunday’s decider. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
These last few hours before Sunday’s All-Ireland football final constitute the happiest time for the greatest number. Anticipation is at its height. For supporters of both counties the possibility is still there and for neutrals, excitement at the prospect of a match that promises so much is palpable.
All-Irelands are however judged exclusively by their outcome and not by the prevailing sentiment before they happen. For all the atmosphere in a heaving Croke Park and the psychic energy swirling around Mayo’s latest date with destiny and attempt to bridge the gap back to 1951, by the end of the afternoon one set of supporters barring a draw won’t want even to think about the day again.
It would be possible to write a persuasive preview advocating the claims of either county. Mayo’s rise under James Horan has had nothing to do with the county’s familiar qualities of springing major surprises along the way but has been characterised by consistency and incremental improvement from season to season.
The recognisable route of losing in succession All-Ireland semi-final and final leaves just one step to take. The last three teams to return to an All-Ireland final the year after losing one - Cork (2010), Kerry (2009) and Galway (2001) – have redeemed themselves.
The last county not to, was Mayo who in 1997 lost, maybe a little ominously, to the team they’d beaten in the previous year’s semi-final, Kerry.
Among Horan’s achievements however has been to disable the influence of piseogs and myth and concentrate on the here and now: performance and what can be done to enhance it.
They have steamrolled their way through Connacht, ransacked the once proud defensive fortress of last year’s champions Donegal and managed to undo Tyrone’s security conscious set-up without undue fuss.
The impressive aspect of these performances is that even though the resistance was largely non-existent they played to their own tempo and never let up. Their standards didn’t allow them “to do enough” to win.
Room for improvement
Dublin haven’t been as consistent in one sense. Their performances have been at times wasteful and leaving a fair bit of room for improvement. Yet over the year as a whole they have lost just two competitive matches.
But in Dublin’s favour they have played a couple of serious All-Ireland matches to date. Cork and Kerry are the most experienced practitioners of August football and whereas neither are at their peak they posed a significant challenge.
Despite Kerryl smarting at being labelled underdogs and having thrown the kitchen sink at the Hill in the first half, they were beaten.
Slightly obscured by the breath-taking nature of the match was the improvement in Dublin’s conversion rate. They created fewer goal chances - seven – but scored three.
Their centrefield went into the match expected to struggle against Kerry but Michael Darragh Macauley, Cian O’Sullivan and Denis Bastick ended up having the better of that argument. The O’Shea brothers are more formidable again with Aidan having his best season but so far Dublin have done enough to prevent the sector being used decisively against them and compete well on opposition kick-outs.