Mayo should let Keith Higgins do his job the old-fashioned way
James Horan’s side will have to play to their strengths to topple James O’Donoghue and Kerry
Keith Higgins of Mayo tracks Kerry’s James O’Donoghue at Croke Park last weekend. Photograph: Donall Farmer / Inpho
Keith Higgins of Mayo tracks Kerry’s James O’Donoghue at Croke Park last weekend. Photograph: Morgan Treacy / Inpho
Kerry’s James O’Donoghue at close quarters with Mayo’s Keith Higgins at Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan / Inpho
There’s a great story told in Michael Foley’s book “Kings of September” about the moment in the week before the 1982 All-Ireland football final that Offaly manager Eugene McGee heard Denis Ogie Moran was going to start for Kerry at wing-forward, rather than centre-forward.
Kerry had lost two championship games in the eight years under Mick O’Dwyer up until that point – and in both of those games Moran had been played at wing forward. He was a lucky omen at number 11 (he’d end up winning eight All-Ireland medals there, so you can’t argue with the logic), and McGee felt he had the answer to everything . . . except Ogie leading the Kerry attack.
When he heard the Kerry team announced on the radio as he drove home from training on the Wednesday night before the final, Foley writes – “McGee’s emotions came tumbling out. He roared and cheered. He banged the steering wheel. He stopped his car and leapt out. He punched the air with delight and relief. Ogie was on the wing. He could feel the Sam Maguire tickling the edges of his fingers.”
The team named was the team that was going to start, and in those exact positions – pretty simple, wasn’t it? Back then, if you were playing with a lad who wasn’t entirely sure of his left and right, you could just tell him that the combined total of your jersey number and your marker’s jersey number should add up to 17. Number five picked up number 12. Simple – although why you’d think a man who didn’t know which foot he kicked with would be capable of simple arithmetic is perhaps an argument for another day.
It was 15 battles, each to be fought on their own separate piece of territory. It was simplistic, and it didn’t do a whole lot for the team with inferior players, but it was gladiatorial in its way – win nine of those battles, and you were probably going to win the game.
And that’s why the James O’Donoghue/Keith Higgins match-up in Croker last Sunday had the potential to be such a throw-back; the country’s in-form inside-forward, against the best man-marker in the business. Would the game let us see a winner?
As it turned out, Higgins had too much help too often in the game to make it a straight shoot-out, and both men had so many good moments that it felt like a score-draw
Higgins was the high-wire act, the man who knew he was one mistake from a calamity. O’Donoghue was paid the ultimate compliment by Mayo, with a rotating support cast for Higgins which at times numbered their entire half-forward line.