Last year’s lessons to see Mayo home against Dublin
Mayo look like a group that have put everything on hold for 12 months to achieve one goal
Seamus O’Shea will have a big job in midfield to do for Mayo against Dublin. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Playing in your first All-Ireland can be suffocating. Your A Game cannot be as easily found as other days and you don’t know why. It’s a surreal experience.
I was an unused sub in the 1969 victory over Offaly. That helped me cope with the external trappings a year later when I was centre back against Meath. I’ll never forget the feeling of sheer relief at the final whistle. For most of the novel 80 minute game I was too nervous to do anything but glue myself to Mattie Kerrigan. A ll I cared about was surviving. I just about achieved that. Other first timers might not be so fortunate.
I just feel that fellas who have been there before tend to do the right thing at the right time. That reflects better on Mayo, after last season’s torturous opening minutes against Donegal along with the 2004 and 2006 defeats to Kerry, as opposed to Dublin survivors from 2011.
It is worth noting that Jim Gavin felt the need to haul off Ciarán Kilkenny, Kevin O’Brien and eventually Paul Mannion in the semi-final against Kerry. Three of his under-21 graduates and they all struggled to stand out.
Tomorrow requires an even greater leap. To have gone through it before is of enormous value. To have not makes a younger players performance almost a lottery.
You just don’t know how they will go . . .
This is such a difficult game to call. The pathways of both teams are so different with Dublin seriously tested while Mayo had the smoother route, on which they have glided along so impressively.
Still, it is of huge importance that Tyrone opened them up in the first half of the semi-final. That was their only test this summer but the calmness of their reaction was telling.
It has been refreshing to see both managers encouraging their players to express themselves and make their own adjustments when necessary. They have trusted six backs to mark six forwards without the safety net of a sweeper. That’s the way we like to see football played.
But I have been particularly impressed by the approach of Mayo all year under James Horan. Donie Buckley has come in as a sort of head coach. That’s a very smart move by Horan. First job of the most successful managers is to get a really good coach. That’s the old fashion way. You see the value in the heap of turnovers from their new tackle technique.
After last year’s final Mayo players seemed to realise they are well capable of winning an All-Ireland. I expect an iron-like resilience in the opening exchanges. They look like a group that have put everything on hold for 12 months to achieve one goal. It’s their collective strength that is so obvious now. Against Tyrone, Aidan O’Shea was on a yellow card and not playing well while Cillian O’Connor had gone off yet they found a way back with Chris Barrett and Lee Keegan grabbing vital scores before half-time. There always seems to be a player willing to take responsibility.