How does doing it all again next week sound?
All-Ireland SFC final: Mayo v Tyrone (today, 5pm, Croke Park, live on RTÉ2 and Sky Sports Arena)
THE excitement. The ticket hunt. The AppleGreen. The pints. The sickness in your stomach as the band strikes the last chord of Amhrán na bhFiann. The wondering and the waiting and the wishing.
How does it sound doing it all again next week?
While All-Ireland finals of the last six years have not been as one-sided as Dublin’s ability to win them suggests, they’ve all carried the air that inevitably the ribbons in use would be metropolitan blue.
Was Mayo’s suffering at their hands worse than Tyrone’s? Does it feel any better losing by a point after a replay than by six? If anything it must feel worse to live with the what ifs.
They talk about 70 years of endless heartbreak but really it’s 30 years of ‘what if’ for Mayo. Between 1952 and 1989, they only won six Connacht titles and weren’t next or near an All-Ireland.
30 years of really bad days, like ’04 and ’06, and slightly better bad days as in ’16 and ’17, would be plenty all the same.
That Mayo feel they are so close today to being able to at last waken from the endlessly recurring dream relies on it not being Kerry or Dublin staring at them from the other corner.
You can be sure that without a word uttered about it, Tyrone will have manufactured disrespect from the very notion that they’re the team Mayo have been waiting all this time for.
Their last championship dance was five years ago and is virtually irrelevant.
Two of their last four league meetings have been decided by a point, one each road. It’s notable that those were the two played at the season’s end.
Mayo were relegated to Division Two by their final-day defeat in Castlebar last October. It was a game from which there is perhaps a bit to be learned.
That day, Tyrone played on Mayo’s predilection for man-to-man rather than zones. Mickey Harte pulled their two midfielders wide and Niall Morgan boomed the kickouts right down the middle at Conor McKenna, lined out at centre-forward.
Mayo’s absolute abandonment of any form of sweeper that afternoon left them exposed. On a dog’s dinner of a day, Tyrone scored 3-14, same as in their All-Ireland semi-final two weeks ago, only with 20 fewer minutes in which to do it.
James Horan was without Cillian O’Connor that day but watched Tommy Conroy’s pace trouble three different markers, and Ryan O’Donoghue cause similar problems off the bench.
They’re both infinitely better players now, but so too is Michael McKernan, having his best year since his breakthrough season and almost certain to go into a big man-to-man duel with Conroy.
What might be instructive is how Ronan McNamee swallowed up Aidan O’Shea that day at full-forward.
Putting O’Shea inside again tomorrow seems like such a bad idea that it would almost look like self-sabotage. Not only is it hard to escape the idea that Tyrone will suffocate him in there, he could be a huge edge against a midfield that struggled massively on contested ball against Kerry.
Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan have their own decision to make at full-forward. Leaving Cathal McShane out again feels like it would be equally ill-judged. He was too sharp, too accurate and too destructive against Kerry when he came on.
You’re talking a man who was in Footballer of the Year contention in 2019.
Granted, this is not a normal game, where you’re thinking if one team gets a run on it, they could get away and make any impact off the bench negligible.
Neither team will get away. There might be bits of daylight and periods where it looks as though it might happen, but if at any point there are more than four points in it, something has gone badly wrong.
Even when they went at it in last October’s rain, they still couldn’t find a way to not be separated by the minimum in the end.
Both teams already have form. Mayo were excellent in the second half and extra-time against Dublin but needed it all to win by three.
Tyrone’s championship campaign might have been over before it began. A missed penalty by Michael Murphy, who was then sent off, joining the injured Neil McGee on the bench, and it was still only in the last five minutes they extended what was a two-point gap when Caolan McGonagle rounded Niall Morgan only to spill the ball.
It won’t be the prettiest of All-Ireland finals but if you’re of any sort of nervous disposition at all, there’s golf over on BBC2 at 6pm and it might be best you watch that instead.
Tyrone’s running power and Mayo’s running power are similar. Is it more exhausting to run it the length of the field, as Tyrone will attempt, or to chase bodies higher up the pitch in hope of a greater return from the big turnovers Mayo thrive off?
Mayo will want Paddy Durcan to escape Conor Meyler’s clutches and they’ll want Lee Keegan freed up from McShane as best he can be. They’ll hope Diarmuid O’Connor has a big day against Peter Harte. They’ll need Conroy and O’Donoghue to make the ball stick and go from there.
Tyrone will look for men springing from deep. Niall Sludden and Kieran McGeary have been particularly prominent in their counter-attacking play. Darren McCurry will feel that after such a brilliant season until the last day, he has some more proving to do again.
Conor McKenna’s two dynamic flashes were decisive in the semi-final but they could do with a bit more consistency from him across the 70 minutes.
But even when things don’t go well, there are no two better teams at finding a way to deal with it.
Tyrone won barely a third of the game’s possession against a Kerry team you don’t want to surrender possession to, yet they still managed to beat them.
Mayo have had a horrible first half against Galway and a very flat – if perhaps deliberate, in the sense of keeping goals out – first period against Dublin, yet recovered to win both games.
If it does swing, it will probably just fall Mayo’s way.
But it has 0-15 to 1-12 written all over it. Extra-time is more of a lottery than any penalty shootout. Two points up and you’re halfway out the gate.
It’s difficult to escape the idea that we might all be back next Sunday.
THE O’SHEA DEBATE
THE true debate around Aidan O’Shea is not whether he starts, but where. Mayo’s talisman gets an awful rough ride from his own people above all but he could be a potentially defining figure this afternoon. Expect him to line out at full-forward but move very early to midfield, where Padraig Hampsey will almost certainly follow. That creates a far greater quandary for Tyrone than if he stays at full-forward. Hampsey is comfortable anywhere but it’s whether Mayo move someone else inside, who do Tyrone send with them when Hampsey (v O’Shea), McKernan (v Conroy) and McNamee (v O’Donoghue) are tied up.
WILL MAYO ACTUALLY LINE OUT AS SELECTED
IT’S unusual to get a line-up for any game at 4.30pm these days, so it was a surprise when Mayo’s arrived yesterday. Enda Hession and Bryan Walsh are named to come into the side. Eoghan McLaughlin’s injury and Darren McHale’s quiet game and early substitution against Dublin meant their outgoings are no surprise, but it’s the identity of the men coming in that catches the eye. Hession had a big impact against the Dubs but Mayo would have been hoping for Oisin Mullin to be fit. They’re very different players and that will alter how Mayo shape up if it is right. Bryan Walsh has had gametime all year but it’s still a slight surprise that he nips in ahead of Darren Coen and James Carr especially.
McSHANE HAS TO START
HE’S fit, he’s sharp, he’s a ball-winner who scores – and he will keep Mayo honest in the full-back line. Starting Cathal McShane appears to be a no-brainer. Because while there is method behind the idea of putting him in against tired legs late on, no defence in Gaelic football is better at containing in one-v-one situations than Mayo’s. If Tyrone hold him back and then don’t get the late kick they hope for out of him, it will start to look very much like a mistake. Starting will also mean Lee Keegan has to play full-back for Mayo, which reduces his own attacking threat from deep – a ploy that worked brilliantly for Dublin in the second half of last year’s final.
TO DROP OFF OR NOT?
TYRONE sat off the Kerry kickout because they didn’t want unpicked by the Kingdom’s kicking game. It worked a treat. Kerry were reduced to just 10 kick passes in either half. Mayo got the usual Dublin squeeze on Rob Hennelly’s kickouts but managed to retain all but two early ones. Hennelly kicks without a tee though and the trajectory he puts on the ball is difficult for his own receivers to control. If Tyrone pressurise it they could find joy, and they can also take heart from the fact that even if Mayo win it, they won’t kick it anyway. They only kicked the ball 13 times in the normal 70 minutes against Dublin. Dooher and Logan got it absolutely right dropping off the last day – but doing that again might be the wrong call here.
MAYO TO ATTACK FRANK BURNS’ WING
FRANK Burns has been excellent of late and integral to Tyrone’s system. The naked eye would struggle to pick up his role. At times in the semi-final, he appeared to be playing at right half-back, and other times as the sweeper. A second look suggests that he hugs the right wing until there’s cover coming and then drops off into the middle. Expect Mayo to attack their left wing and try to create overloads while Tyrone get their system in place as they filter bodies back.
Mayo: James Horan has very diligently created a greater depth to Mayo’s resources in his second term, to the point where they could win the All-Ireland having lost so much experience to retirement last year. With Enda Hession named to start, it casts more doubt on whether Oisin Mullin is fit. If not, he’s a serious loss. Darren Coen, Jordan Flynn and Brendan Harrison may see some game time.
Tyrone: In the likely event that Cathal McShane starts, Tyrone will be relying on Darragh Canavan and Tiernan McCann for their lift in the second half. They’re understood to have left Ronan O’Neill off their 26 in favour of Jonny Munroe, while Niall Kelly is back in the squad at the expense of Liam Rafferty. Paul Donaghy hasn’t played a minute since being taken off against Cavan so would most likely only be a very late option if Tyrone need scores.
2021 TOP SCORERS
Ryan O’Donoghue 3-23 (1-0pen, 0-11f, 0-3 marks)
Cillian O’Connor 2-24 (2-0pen, 0-17f, 0-2 marks, 0-1 45)
Darren McHale 3-10
Darren McCurry 0-41 (18f, 2 marks)
Paul Donaghy 0-17 (8f)
Cathal McShane 1-8 (0-3f)
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Kill Shamrocks / Cavan)
Linesmen: David Gough (Meath, standby); Brendan Cawley (Kildare)
Sideline official: Ciaran Branagan (Down)
Umpires: Ciaran Brady (Kill Shamrocks), TP Gray (Kill Shamrocks), Jimmy Galligan (Killygarry), Mickey Lee (Drumalee)
IF IT’S A DRAW?
Extra-time if it’s level after 70 minutes. If it’s still level at the end of extra-time, it will be a replay on Sunday, September 19.
WHERE TO WATCH
RTÉ2: Coverage from 3.30pm
Sky Sports Arena: Coverage from 4pm