Improving Mayo primed to avenge the pain of last year’s final defeat to Donegal
Pre-match talk has increased the pressure but Mayo should avoid being drawn into a physical battle
Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea in action against London. He can help give James Horan’s side the edge in the crucial midfield sector at Croke Park on Sunday. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
In some ways tomorrow’s All-Ireland rematch between Donegal and Mayo is building up even more steam than last year’s final, and wherever there’s steam there’s always potential for an explosion.
There was certainly some irony in Jim McGuinness talking up his fears about the increasing physicality of football, especially given it was his Donegal team who took that physicality to a new level – albeit within the rules. Managers are always looking for an edge, or perhaps trying to influence the referee in some way, but that kind of talk suggests to me that McGuinness knows his team aren’t playing as well as last year.
What was more surprising was that James Horan got involved, because the most important thing for his Mayo team is keeping a lid on all of this, ensuring the focus is on playing the game at their pace and tempo. Mayo don’t need to be drawn into a physical contest, a war of attrition, because that will be just playing into Donegal’s hands.
Still they will have learnt a lot from last year’s final, and should be much better prepared this time. They are even more athletic, and the influence of trainer Donie Buckley is showing in their improved tackling. If they can play the game wide, stretch Donegal, then they definitely have the pace and freshness to win out this time. What they’ll have driving them as well is that pain and hurt of last year’s final defeat, which no player easily forgets. They’ll be relishing this chance to make some amends.
Donegal had a hard time break down the Laois defence last weekend, especially with Billy Sheehan playing the sweeper role. In the end Laois had to go for broke, and Donegal will get some momentum from the way they finished that game. It’s crucial for both teams to start well, although more so for Donegal. If they can get a small lead they’re still very good at strangling a team and Mayo can’t afford to let that happen.
But with Aidan O’Shea looking fitter than ever at midfield, that still dangerous forward line of O’Connor and Alan Freeman, the return of Andy Moran and a more experienced defence, especially in Ger Cafferkey, Mayo can use their freshness to win out, again provided they don’t lose out in the physical battle.
It’s also a rematch of sorts for Dublin and Cork in this evening’s quarter-final, the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final no doubt still fresh in the minds of both teams. But the momentum is firmly with Dublin this time and it’s difficult to see how Cork will handle their attacking game.
Kerry ran riot in the first half of the Munster final, when Cork’s defence looked totally inept. Dublin also boast a similar playmaker to Colm Cooper in Ciarán Kilkenny, and if he dictates the play the way ‘Gooch’ did in the Munster final then Dublin can cause Cork all sorts of problems, especially with that full- forward line of Paul Mannion, Bernard Brogan and Eoghan O’Gara.