Call it mind games, call it player welfare concern, either way next Sunday's rerun of last year's All-Ireland final between Donegal and Mayo was yesterday taken to a higher plain of tension and rivalry by James Horan.
The Mayo manager added his tuppence worth following opposite number Jim McGuinness’ assertion that Donegal players are being unfairly targeted by opponents.
“Donegal have been the leaders in (physicality),” said Horan. “There’s no doubt about that. They’ve brought physicality in GAA to a new level, and fair play to them.
“They brought a new dimension to football last year, I think, in many ways, and particularly in the area of physicality.”
In the wake of Donegal's victory over Laois on Saturday, McGuinness noted Mark McHugh's concussion, following a hit by Monaghan's Stephen Gollogly in the Ulster final, was the fourth in three championship games suffered by one of his players.
McHugh also suffered a burst eardrum and a 5cm tear to his leg in the collision.
“Four concussions in three games? I would imagine the Munster or Leinster rugby fellas wouldn’t have that level,” McGuinness said.
Horan added: "Look, Donegal and their backroom team, they're competitive. They're All-Ireland champions. Anything that'll give them an advantage, they'll try.
'A different level'
"Last year they mastered many new skills and brought football to a different level on many fronts . . . particularly in the area around physicality.
“They really ratcheted that up last year and put a lot of teams to the sword based on their strength and their power and their tackling.
"I don't know if any of ye have been at the end of a Michael Murphy tackle recently but there's serious, serious physicality in that team. So they've been the leaders on that front."
Horan talked about the work done by Mayo since the concession of two early goals against Donegal in last year’s All-Ireland final, particularly the avoidance of frees in the tackle area.
He also praised the work of referees’ chairman Pat McEnaney.
“This year since Donie Buckley’s been involved, we’ve looked at the whole area of skills, and to us, tackling is a skill area – there’s no doubt about it. So we’ve put a huge amount of time, effort and focus into getting all our basic skills right, including the tackle, and hopefully ye’ll see that on Sunday.
“Left hand, both hands, both feet, pick-ups, turning both ways, the fundamentals, we’ve put a lot of work into, and the tackle . . . we’ve looked at what the tackle is, and we’ve tried to perfect that as well as we can understand it.
“We’ve put huge work in there, so we’re comfortable we tackle to the letter of the law.
“Look, we’ve just got to trust the refs that are there, that there’s consistency. I saw Pat McEneaney on Saturday up in Croke Park – I know he’s doing a lot of good work to try and bring some consistency there. Look, we’ll go out and play it that way.”
For the record, Cavan’s Joe McQuillan will referee both counties’ return to Croke Park.
McQuillan was recently subjected to jostling and face to face abuse from Kildare supporters following Tyrone’s qualifier victory in Newbridge, when his Garda escort was unable to shield him from departing supporters in front of the main stand.
McQuillan was unharmed but GAA director general Paraic Duffy took full responsibility for the officials failed exit strategy at St Conleth's Park.
Horan also stated Mayo have arrive at this season’s All-Ireland quarter-final juncture a stronger squad than 2012.
"I think we've a better understanding of our game, and what's needed to play at the top level. We've a lot more experience under our belt."
The obvious bonus is the fitness of Mayo forwards Andy Moran, Alan Dillon and Cillian O'Connor.
In contrast, Donegal are without McHugh, while footballer of the year Karl Lacey was not deemed fit enough to start against Laois.
Off the ball collisions during Saturday’s 0-14 to 0-8 victory in Carrick-on-Shannon also enraged McGuinness.
“There were a lot of incidents out there where players were trying to get up the field, and were stopped,” he said. “All I can do is give you the facts, and relay to you that there is a fear and anxiety as a manager.
“You don’t want a situation where there’s going to be a very serious injury. It’s going to happen, and I hope that everyone that is involved with the consequences can live with that. Because I know I won’t be able to.”
McGuinness specifically mentioned neck and spinal injuries as a potential consequence.
Meanwhile, Dublin county board chairman Andy Kettle is confident a new sponsor, for all their teams, including camogie and women'sfootball, will be announced in the coming weeks.
“We would hope to have it sorted before the All-Ireland finals,” said Kettle. “The success of both senior teams at the moment is certainly not hindering the process.
“We’ve revamped it a little bit in terms of when Vodafone came in four years ago, they took Dublin footballers; the hurlers have become a definite bonus and what we have negotiated is we have spoken to the Dublin ladies and Dublin camogie, so the whole family will be available to a potential sponsor on this occasion, rather than having the sponsorship diluted by different brands on different jerseys. That’s a first.”