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GAA Football

John McEntee: Mayo must be ready to throw the kitchen sink at Dublin

Mayo may never get a better chance to win an All-Ireland than in 2016, when they lost a replay to Dublin by a single point Picture by Hugh Russell

THREE in-a-row is virtually impossible. Only Kerry (1978-1981 & 1984-86) in football and Kilkenny (2006-2009) in hurling have achieved this level of perpetual consistency in my lifetime.

In fact, many teams cemented their place in the history books category of ‘great teams’ by winning consecutive titles.

This was a challenge too great in the last 30 years for the mighty men of Down, Galway, Meath and Tyrone who were all dominant teams of their era, winning multiple All-Ireland crowns but were unable to win back-to-back titles.

The weight of expectation, a burden if they were honest, is so great it has the ability to turn steely muscled legs into trembling straw stalks and it makes intelligent footballers do the most stupid of things in the heat of battle.

Beating the Dubs is wholly improbable. They have become the very definition of Gaelic football. They are the poster boys of our time, they are disciplined, humble and entirely altruistic.

They are to be admired and adorned and the way they conduct themselves sets the benchmark for all amateur sportsmen far beyond the reaches of the GAA.

They are rightly being considered as one of the greatest teams of all time, if not the greatest. When you think of the past greats of our game, that is some accolade indeed.

Therein lies my dilemma – what happens when the virtually impossible outcome faces off against the wholly improbable conclusion?

In any examination, balance is required and Mayo provide this balance. This game is not all about Dublin despite what we media folk think.

Mayo have quality in abundance in areas which will test Dublin. As seasoned campaigners, they have been rigorously tested throughout this campaign, so much so that they have uncovered new players, a serious resolve and an impenetrable resilience. They will go toe-to-toe with Dublin. Any other way is futile.

During the Second World War when materials were needed for the war efforts, some say metal kitchen sinks were removed and converted into artillery and the phrase ‘throw the kitchen sink at them’ was born. It might be an exaggeration but it is relevant in this case because if Mayo are to win this battle, they need to give it everything. For them, it is their Second World War.

For me, the key to winning this game is mental preparation.

If Mayo prepare for this duel with the mental scars of eight final losses since their 1951 victory and a hideous curse hanging over their heads, they might as well save themselves the journey. Dublin will wipe them off the floor and resign them to the dustbin of history.

Last year Mayo were one kick of a ball away from beating Dublin. They were every bit as good as Dublin.

Interestingly, Jim Gavin stated in an interview that his team were disappointed they did not perform to their standards last year, indicating they were much better than they showed. This is mind games. He wants his team to be remembered for not only winning three-in-a-row, but also for playing brilliantly on All-Ireland final day. The performance is as important as the win. This is a message from Jim to his own players; he wants them to perform well and to take this opportunity to shine on the big stage to cement their place in the history books.

It is a key motivation strategy. Jim does not talk about playing in an All-Ireland final. He knows these three simple words have the potential to debilitate his rising stars, the men he has become dependent on.

Jim showed his managerial acumen by dropping his trusted lieutenants and blooding young guns, it was a necessary action to maintain their competitive edge and to reach the final. Their bench is the envy of many. He will be asking himself if he has achieved the correct balance. Don’t be surprised if a late change is made to the starting 15 such as the introduction of Diarmuid Connolly. In a final, it is unwise to have all your experience on the bench.

Will Stephen Rochford talk to his players about playing in an All-Ireland final and risk awakening the demons of the past? I remember playing in the club championship having won the All-Ireland club final previous March.

Each time we ran onto the field we were greeted with the words, ‘please welcome the All-Ireland club champions, Crossmaglen Rangers’.

We loved those words, we knew they’d reverberate between the ears of our opposition and whether they realised it or not, it gave us a three-point start to every match.

How will Croke Park introduce the Dublin team? Can Mayo become immune to Dublin’s drive for three-in-a-row? For three weeks this game has formed the basis of every sporting conversation the length and breadth of Ireland.

It simply is impossible to ignore this story. The players know this whether they admit it or not. More than a million people will watch this game on television but in the end one team will achieve an historic win, the other will have to wait another lifetime to repeat the same opportunity.

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