A FIRST-EVER All-Ireland final showdown between Mayo and Tyrone sets the scene for what should be a cracking contest. If we cast our minds back to the start of the season it’s safe to say that no one predicted this pairing at the start of the summer.
Their semi-final wins were similar in that they both beat raging-hot favourites after extra-time. Both counties were written off going into those games but both fully believed they could win.
Both Mayo and Tyrone arrived in Croke Park and set about causing as much mayhem as they could and their intensity could not be matched.
If we take a look at Mayo I’m going to be completely honest and say that when I heard the news that Cillian O Connor would be out for the season I thought their chances were gone for the season. Those thoughts were based on Cillian’s scoring stats from the last couple of years and I felt that they would struggle to replace those scores.
We’ve written off this Mayo team many times in the past so great credit must go to James Horan and his team for not only continuing to believe in themselves but also identifying areas where they needed to strengthen.
Over the last two seasons Mayo have rebuilt while also staying at the top which is an extremely difficult thing to do. They lost last season’s decider to Dublin by five points but there is no doubt that the experience will stand to these younger players who Horan introduced.
Players like Tommy Conroy. Oisin Mullin, Matthew Ruane and Padraig O’Hora now play like seasoned campaigners while their youth amd energy gives Mayo the ability to go toe to toe with the likes of Dublin, and in Croke Park that is exactly what you need.
The Mayo men are particularly strong defensively. They have Oisin Mullin to come back into their line-up this weekend, they have Padraig O’Hora who was Man of the Match against Dublin, as well as the likes of Lee Keegan and Paddy Durcan, so they have a solid defensive unit who can also hurt you going forward.
A big question is where they will decide to play Aidan O’Shea. In the past they’ve placed Aidan on the edge of the square to cause chaos but I actually think that Tyrone would be quite happy to see him there because Padraig Hampsey and Ronan McNamee are ideally suited to curtail his influence. From a Tyrone perspective, Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher will be looking for something similar to what they got against Kerry.
As I said last week, the intensity and ferociousness in the tackle that Tyrone showed simply meant that Kerry couldn’t handle them. However, that’s the one thing that this Mayo team will be able to match so Tyrone are going to have to find something different in order to get themselves over the line.
We are not talking about a Dublin who are going for a six or seven in-a-row, or a Kerry who are used to winning All Irelands every couple of years, but these two teams are extremely hungry and driven because they know that this may be the chance to land the big one.
I expect this game to be played at hundred miles an hour and I have to admit it’s a contest that really intrigues me.
Tyrone will need massive performances from the likes of Niall Morgan, Kieran McGeary, Conor Meyler and big Conor McKenna. I am on record here over the last number of weeks stating that I believe Tyrone are a more dangerous outfit when Cathal McShane, Conor McKenna and Darragh Canavan are on the pitch together.
From an opponent’s perspective, when three players are on the pitch they must be man marked because they’re capable of doing serious damage on the scoreboard. This means that three of the Mayo back line will be preoccupied with these three lads and they may be less brave in venturing forward as one slip and any of those three will severely punish you.
I also said that Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher know these fellas better than I do and perhaps that’s why they wait until the game opens up before all three are on the pitch at once. Who do I think will win? Now that is a tough one and it’s one that I’ve played over in my head all week as both teams are very similar.
When looking at all the potential match ups and so on, I am left with one thought. I expect the game to be in the balance with ten to go and then the Son Of God will make one of his intelligent runs and the Mayo defenders’ tired minds won’t pick up on it and that could mean Sam is going back to Tyrone. So Tyrone by two!!