All-Ireland Senior Football Final: Mayo v Tyrone, Croke Park, Saturday, 5.0 – Live on RTÉ 2 and Sky Sports Arena
The final that no one has seen until either of the semi-finals, let alone earlier, has given the season a tension few expected at the start of the season. For more mystery, it hardly has any point of reference, as the Temporary Sudden Death format, unlike qualifiers and Super 8s, leaves no shape lines that could be useful.
Rarely has a final also caused so much concern about the proximity of the call while eliciting near unanimity that one of the teams, in this case Mayo, will win.
The emotional fervor behind Mayo is detectable with a Geiger counter. After all, this is the 10th final since their last victory 70 years ago. Ten finals in context is more than anything, but six counties have even contested in their history. Mayo did it in 32 years without reward.
Tyrone’s stats for all of Ireland are three wins, three losses; Mayo are three, 14. They have lost more finals than Dublin, which has 10 times more All-Irelands.
Desire, as ardent as it is, and the law of averages mean anything in the end?
To be fair to James Horan, he has always swam against the tide in the county by reducing emotionality and emphasizing science. His team, with its physical qualities and relentless work ethic, is proof of this.
They are not robots either. The heart and dedication with which they tracked down a faltering Dublin demonstrated the power of these intangibles.
Part of the excitement in the county is that Kerry isn’t the opponent and yet Horan likely had a thick record on the weaknesses of the Munster champions – headless running, poor judgment on the ball, and claustrophobic marking sensitivity – which Tyrone has successfully exploited.
Neither side turned off the lights. The two managed 17 goals in 90 minutes of semi-final football, with Ulster’s side doing better in the sense that three of theirs were goals.
Horan settled in very conservatively to deprive Dublin of goals in the first half. The problem was that the champions used 10 points and few observers stroked their chin at the break, saying it worked very well for Mayo.
Could they have counted on Dublin to score just three points in the second half? If so, well done, but more sustained performance will likely be needed here.
This has been a problem for Horan and his management. The last two games saw an extraordinary recovery in the second half, but disastrous displays in the first half made it necessary.
The injuries of defenders Mullin and McLaughlin were widely speculated to be cleared up, but while Mullin is listed in subs, McLaughlin is not. Mullin’s availability gives May a real prospect of improvement with the return of Brendan Harrison – who is another who could be suspended
Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan must decide to pitch Cathal McShane, who has returned to form with 1-3 on the bench against Kerry. If so, Conor McKenna could fade even though his eye for goal fell 2-0 in the semifinals, which is no small feat in a one-point game.
The teams will have to adapt after the semi-finals where the opposing defense was hospitable. Nothing will be readily available. Mayo’s young guns Ryan O’Donoghue and Tommy Conroy may have started from the positive experience, but Tyrone’s attack is more experienced and features a few All Stars in McShane and Matthew Donnelly.
The Ulster Champions have a more reliable system and apply it with greater consistency, albeit imperfect, while Mayo brings occasional spells of thunder when their backs, Lee Keegan, Patrick Durcan, Mullin, if they are. Fit, Matthew Ruane at center field is pouring out and it’s hard to resist.
Tyrone must also watch their discipline. The two black cards in the semi-finals were ridiculous and if the game has to be rocked by a moment of madness, they seem more vulnerable.
If not, will Mayo adapt Aidan O’Shea to a more specific role rather than the somewhat Sisyphean task of positioning himself deep under hopeful deliveries to be devoured by the waiting sentries?
He could be deployed as a physical presence at the center-forward, where he’s named and probably best suited, to make life difficult for Tyrone’s transition experts like Niall Sludden and Kieran McGeary and on offense for make others play.
Andy Moran argued during the week that a final with two largely inexperienced teams without All-Ireland medals could be used to provide plenty of contests for possession now that Dublin’s choreographed ball retention has stopped working.
There were a lot of turnovers in the semi-finals and although the winners led that count, they also conceded.
Cards on the Table: Marginal preference is for Tyrone’s more practiced game plan and greatest forward potential. It’s not a compelling case, but neither will it be easily undone.
MAYO: R Hennelly; P O’Hora, L Keegan, M Plunkett; P Durcan, S Coen, E Hession; M Ruane, C Loftus; D O’Connor, A O’Shea, B Walsh; K McLoughlin, T Conroy, R O’Donoghue.
Subscribers: R Byrne, C Boyle, B Harrison, O Mullin, J Coyne, C O’Shea, J Durcan, J Flynn, D Coen, E McLaughlin, J Carr.
Read Darragh Ó Sé’s guide to the Mayo team
TYRON: N Morgan; M McKernan, R McNamee, P Hampsey; F Burns, P Harte, K McGeary; B Kennedy, C Kilpatrick; C Meyler, M O’Neill, N Sludden; D McCurry, M Donnelly, C McKenna.
Subscribers: L Quinn, M Bradley, D Canavan, P Donaghy, N Kelly, T McCann, B McDonnell, HP McGeary, C McShane, J Munroe, C Munroe / C Shields.
Read Kevin McStay’s guide to Team Tyrone