by Brian Donnellon
The countdown is on, the final week before the All Ireland GAA Football final; two teams familiar with the demands of a final, but coming with very different perspectives. Workplaces in the respective counties will be a buzz of chatter about the lineups and who will mark who on the big day. Dublin are the reigning champions and in their most dominant period of football. After proving to be true champions and defeating a riled up Kerry in the semis, they look primed and ready for another day celebrating being the top dogs. Only one team stand in their way, a Mayo team filled with an abundance of talent and experience at this level. Mayo’s problem? The added pressure of another day as the bridesmaid, not the bride, a county with fans that look tired of making the usual commute home with heads hanging, talking about the infamous curse placed on the players back in 1951 after the last victory for Mayo.
Two main talking points in the build-up will be the battle between Keegan and Connolly, two players that will need to keep their cool, and are major players involved in directing their teams in playing the style they want. The other area of the pitch to look at is Mayo’s full forward line versus the only evident chink in Dublin’s armour, their full back line and Cluxton under the high ball, which was apparent for 15 minutes in the semi-final against Kerry when they conceded two quick goals before half time. Looking at stats and the bookies means there will only be one winner: everything is pointing towards the Dubs. The 27 match unbeaten run in league and championship, the second best run ever after Kerry’s run of 34 games between 1928 and 1933, shows how dominant this squad of players has been, but also how expectant the fans have become. It has become the standard to win and they will expect no less against a Mayo team that lost in Connaught for the first time in 5 years and came through the back door in underwhelming fashion. Maybe that is what the Mayo players need, no dominant performance or extraordinary individual displays in attack, that raise expectation but give away big game tactics in a lesser match. No, indeed, this is a team that got to the final with hard work, graft and a cuteness that comes only from playing on the biggest stage year in year out. A jam-packed Croke Park will be alight with fans of both teams and is sure to be a spectacle for all. It has been dubbed the ‘Year of the Underdog’ in many sports but don’t expect Dublin to take the eye off the prize.