Warning: Supporting Mayo can develop into a serious addiction
I WATCHED the All-Ireland SFC semi-final replay between Kerry and Mayo along with my wife in the middle of a section of Mayo supporters in the Hogan Stand.
It was a great game and, like most neutrals, the most entertaining aspect for us was the Mayo supporters.
These people have obviously been put through the wringer one too many times. They were so massively on edge that to watch them throughout this game was like watching someone drinking 10 cans of Red Bull and then sitting down to watch a horror movie. Yet this was a game they were well on top in.
Mayo were six points up entering the home straight and Lee Keegan was being viciously lambasted for daring to take a solo in his own defence.
Expletive-laden cries of anguish accompanied any Mayo player similarly taking a solo or going into contact.
It wasn’t just one lunatic either in the stand. God knows, every county has a few of them. The entire group we were sitting in were convulsing with anxiety even though the game seemed done and dusted.
Their nerves have been shot for a long time and, just to top things off, these frazzled creatures have had to endure a season where the Mayo footballers have essentially played a game of brinkmanship in every round thus far.
I dread to think what they will be going through if they are in a narrow winning position against the Dubs in the final.
If I were one of the stewards aiming to prevent these people getting on the pitch at the end I’d be getting a tad worried.
Can Mayo do it though? Such has been their ability to grab defeat from the jaws of victory I’ll not believe they are going to win this until they are going up those Hogan Stand steps.
Of course, they can do it. The Dubs, as I’ve said before, are beatable. The problem is that it is going to take many things to go right for Mayo to get close to Dublin, plus that wee slice of luck (hardly a Mayo trait).
Last winning the title in 1951 –wasn’t there a wake or something back then? – with subsequent failures to win in 1989, twice in 1996, 1997, 2004, 2006, 2012, 2013 and twice again in 2016, it is an unbelievable tale of heartbreak. Remember, though, after each loss they have come back. That fact, in many ways, is even more unbelievable.
It is hard to think of any other team across any sport with a similar story.
For the neutral and romantics, there is an undeniable desire to see them across the line.
Letting the head back in charge for a while and looking at the basics of this match, both teams are superb defensively and actually very similar.
Both manage to get the balance just right between tenacity, aggression and ball-playing ability.
It is common to question the Dublin full-back line. However, it was only against Kildare they were in any way exposed. So maybe they don’t enjoy the high ball into strong men in the full-forward line, but which defence does?
Mayo certainly can’t be held up as any stronger in this regard when they had to deploy Aidan O’Shea back there in the semi-final. Dublin, however, nudge ahead in both midfield and attack, where they have superior quality to Mayo.
The Dublin defence are well capable of nullifying Cillian O’Connor, Andy Moran and Jason Doherty.
Mayo do have an excellent defensive line, but trying to contain a side with, realistically, eight Allstar forwards who are all ‘shooters’ will be an almost impossible task.
Like everything else in this game, it’s possible, yes, but in a tight game, Dublin are more likely to get the big scores.
The goalkeeper issue also falls in Dublin’s favour. Rewinding to last year, Stephen Rochford dropped David Clarke primarily due to fears over kick-out weakness.
In this year’s semi-final against Kerry, there was more evidence that Clarke can be suspect in this regard.
I expect Dublin, knowing this is a weakness and knowing that
Mayo have obvious doubts themselves in this area, to really target the Mayo kick-out. It could be telling.
For Mayo, there is less hope. Cluxton can have wobbles, but given their rarity that remains a hope rather than a realistic
For some, Mayo’s 10-game run to here is viewed as a negative, but for me it is their greatest strength. They have honed their ability to battle out wins and get across the line.
In 2005, Tyrone became the first and only side to win the
All-Ireland after 10 games. In the final, we came up against a great Kerry side where there were no obvious areas we were definitely superior in. Yet, having played 10 games, we knew we were more battle-hardened than them. Our strategy was simple: Give everything we have to keep with them and, in the last 5-10 minutes, we would see who blinked first.
Given Dublin’s contrasting run, the parallels for Mayo are obvious.
Ironically, I think Dublin, deep down, want this game to be tight. By winning at a canter, something they could do, it may in some ways diminish their achievement.
Talk would inevitably centre on the imbalances within the game and lack of credible opposition.
Mayo, in contrast to Tyrone, are likely to go toe-to-toe and really engage and compete with Dublin. Given how ineffective both Tyrone and Monaghan were, it should give us a clear chance to see how effective this ploy can be.
If not then where do you start in coming up with an idea for taking the Dubs down?
If Mayo do the job, I reckon we will see more teams move away from the blanket defence.
For me, though, it’s a Dublin win. Jim Gavin’s men are a special team, but I want to see them tested. I want Mayo to be looking into the whites of their eyes going down the home straight so that we can really see if Dublin stand up. In the end, I think when it is really put to the Dubs they will still have the quality and the answers. I’d take that.
Like most others, though, I think I’ll take a dose of whatever those Mayo supporters are on and enjoy supporting one of the most enduring teams in world sport. Nerves be warned.