No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

DECLAN BONNER: Sunday’s Final is one to savour

The All-Ireland Football Final is the biggest day in the GAA calendar and gaels from throughout the country are eagerly awaiting Sunday’s decider.

There was a documentary on RTE on Tuesday night based on last year’s All-Ireland Final, and it has really whetted my appetite for the clash between Dublin and Mayo.

The cameras followed around a number of people as they went about their business on the third Sunday of the September.

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We saw a member of the Artane Boy’s Band preparing for the big day, match commentators Darragh Maloney and Weeshie Fogarty going through their notes, and we also got a good insight into what it’s like to referee a final, as David Coldrick was mic’d up.

I thought it was interesting to see how much interaction there was between the referee and the players, and Coldrick went up in my estimation because he was approachable and the players could ask him questions.

It was insightful and it showed just how big a day it is for everyone involved. It’s a massive occasion that really grips the nation and hopefully we will get a good game on Sunday.

People are totally writing Mayo off and for many it’s a foregone conclusion this weekend.

Cillian O'Connor, Mayo, in action against Diarmuid Connolly last year

Cillian O’Connor, Mayo, in action against Diarmuid Connolly last year

Dublin haven’t lost a championship match since Donegal put them to the sword in 2014, and they are on an unbelievable run of form.

Everyone has been saying all year that they don’t have Rory O’Carroll or Jack McCaffrey and it’s bound to catch up with them eventually.

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However, they haven’t really been missed this season, and their replacements, David Byrne and John Small, have performed admirably.

There were times in Dublin’s semi-final victory over Kerry where they looked in trouble and they gave away two very soft goals. But this group of players is mentally very strong. They fought back and they know how to win games in the final quarter.

It hasn’t been a stellar season for Mayo and they have reached the final without playing anywhere near their best.

They ran Dublin close last year on two occasions but couldn’t get over the line. The players then ousted their management team of Noel Conneely and Pat Holmes, and Stephen Rochford was subsequently installed as manager.

Are the Mayo players’ actions vindicated now that they have reached the All-Ireland Final? The answer to that is probably no. They need to back it up by claiming Sam.

This crop of Mayo players have never reached the Holy Grail, but they are experienced.

They have played in All-Ireland Finals, while their younger players like Diarmuid O’Connor, Conor Loftus, and Stephen Coen have won All-Irelands at minor and under 21 level.

Rochford has won an All-Ireland club title with Corofin, and Tony McEntee has plenty of medals in his cupboard at home in Armagh too. They know how to win big games in Croke Park, but doing it in September has always been a problem for them.

There shouldn’t be too many nerves in the Mayo dressing room on Sunday. They will have a plan and they need to stick to it, and hope they get the rub of the green along the way.

Over the last few years, we have often lamented Mayo for not employing a sweeper.

This season, Kevin McLoughlin has been handed that role, but he has struggled in it, and in the semi-final against Tipperary, it was Barry Moran, who was back covering the defence.

McLoughlin could play there again on Sunday, or they may feel that a double-sweeper system is their best bet.

There’s no doubt that Mayo will be afraid of that Dublin attack. If they click, it could be a long day for the Connacht side.

Jim Gavin has a wonderful attacking division to work with, and even if you shut out Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly, there is always someone else ready to step up.

The Dubs were able to bring on Paddy Andrews, Paul Mannion and Eoghan O’Gara in the semi-final, and those three would all start for Mayo.

Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs are also going to have a big bearing.

When Cluxton is on form, he’s brilliant, but if Mayo can rattle him, the Dublin goalkeeper is known to lose his focus.

Kerry were brave and pushed two extra men up against Dublin for a kick-out and got a goal from that tactic.

I’d imagine Cluxton will be wary of that this weekend, and if in doubt he will go long.

In the 2013 final between these counties, he had a lot of success when he hit the wings with his kick-outs and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go with that ploy again on Sunday.

The million dollar question for Mayo is do they play Aidan O’Shea inside?

They played him at full-forward last season and it didn’t really work, but that’s not to say they won’t get joy from it this time.

O’Shea is a handful and if he’s inside, he will be dangerous, especially as he will have a height advantage on whoever picks him up.

Aidan O'Shea, Mayo, in action against James McCarthy, left, Philip McMahon, and Paddy Andrews, Dublin. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final Replay, Dublin v Mayo. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE

Aidan O’Shea, Mayo, in action against James McCarthy, left, Philip McMahon, and Paddy Andrews, Dublin. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final Replay, Dublin v Mayo. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE

But the ball in needs to be perfect if they are going to utilise him properly and that won’t be easy.

Cian O’Sullivan will be dropping back to cut out the supply and he has become a big player for Dublin. I wouldn’t be surprised if O’Shea plays a wee bit further out on the D to try and occupy O’Sullivan.

The Mayo forwards haven’t really done it when they have come up against Dublin in the past, but that won’t be good enough this week. They need to perform and they need to get goals.

If there are no goals on Sunday, you can be 95% sure that Dublin are going to be lifting Sam. Mayo won’t beat them in a shoot-out for points.

Mayo are quoted at 10/3 to win, but underdogs have prevailed on the third Sunday before.

I remember back to 1992 when we played Dublin in the All-Ireland Final and nobody gave us a chance.

We performed poorly in the semi-final against Mayo, and people felt we would be no match for the mighty Dubs.

I would be friendly with some of the Dublin players from ’92, and they would say the worst thing that could have happened was that we came in as such underdogs.

For the Dublin public and media, it was just a case of showing up, but football doesn’t work like that.

We’re in a different era now and Jim Gavin will have his team well protected, but that day in 1992 shows that you don’t have any divine right to win a game.

Upsets happen and this Dublin team has been caught before when they’ve looked invincible.

If Gavin’s team plays well, they are probably going to win, but if they are slightly off, then Mayo are in with a good chance.

Mayo are waiting since 1951 to win an All-Ireland, and even though they got rid of their management team last year, I still don’t think there’s a lot of pressure on them this week. There is no real hype and their build-up has been low-key.

As a neutral I would love to see Mayo get over the line, and I think some of their experienced players really deserve a medal for their magnificent service to the county.

Dublin are raging hot favourites and everything points to Hill 16 in full voice come 5.10 pm on Sunday evening.

But I’ve just had an inclination since the quarter-finals that this could be Mayo’s year and I honestly think that their famine will come to an end this weekend.

Minor Final

We would have loved to have seen Donegal in the All-Ireland Minor Final this Sunday, but it wasn’t to be.

Galway deservedly beat us in the semi-finals, but I think they will be really up against it this week.

Kerry are going for three in-a-row and I just can’t see them being stopped in Croke Park.

It’s good to see Galway coming again with a strong underage side, but given the strength of the Kingdom’s forwards, they are facing a huge test.

Kerry have really got their act together at minor level, and I think they will be celebrating another title this Sunday.

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