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Now is the right time for Mayo to take that final step

By Peter Canavan

Published 29/08/2015

New role: Barry Moran now playing in front of the full-back line in one of the tweaks made by the new Mayo management team of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly
New role: Barry Moran now playing in front of the full-back line in one of the tweaks made by the new Mayo management team of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly

When I think of Mayo, I picture the Hogan Stand, late September 2013. Beside me was an aunt of one of the players, who had just lost another All-Ireland final to Dublin, as Jim Gavin's men closed out the game.

She was simply inconsolable, despite my efforts and asked me, "How many times do we have to come here and experience this?"

No defeat hurts quite like the ones Mayo have experienced in recent years and I would have a great deal of empathy for the position players and supporters find themselves in.

We were the same in Tyrone, always looking back to 1986 and 1995. Although '86 was tough from a spectator's perspective, being inside the team bubble in '95 was soul-destroying.

In this position, you can only do one thing; keep knocking on the door until it opens.

Mayo know this. Nobody inside their bubble will be taking seriously the talk of curses and all that nonsense that can spring up when you lose All-Ireland finals. We had heard of the Curse of '51, and of Biddy Early, but after we lost in '95 I received a few letters from people detailing some far-fetched curse on the Tyrone team.

That sort of stuff was going around and being put into people's heads at that stage. We put it to bed in 2003, and I have a feeling that if Mayo can get over the line for an All-Ireland, a few more could follow it, such is their talent within the county.

There are certain comparisons that can be made on how this Mayo team are on the cusp of a breakthrough, with how ourselves and Armagh did it.

The amount of work that James Horan put in with this Mayo team is similar in some ways to the work carried out by the two Brians; McAlinden and Canavan, who brought Armagh to a new level, before Joe Kernan came in.

In Tyrone, another double-act in Eugene McKenna and Art McRory had taken us to our first national title with the League in 2002. Mickey Harte then came along with a new impetus, a freshness and took us over the line.

Horan had taken Mayo to the point where they were good enough to win an All-Ireland, unquestionably. The football they played over the past few years was excellent at times.

The new management team of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly have been careful not to tinker too much with the panel, and that was a sensible approach.

However, there have been some clever tweaks, which shows a growing awareness of trouble-shooting and equipping the team for each individual challenge. It's quite possible that came about as a result of conversations with some key personnel.

The main tweaks have been that they have more cover now in front of the full-back line with Barry Moran operating there for the win over Donegal. They now use Aidan O'Shea as a target man. Tom Parsons getting fit and healthy again has filled in a midfield space alongside Seamie O'Shea.

Mayo need to trust in the power of persistence. Their players have come back in again in serious physical shape. They are playing with the same sense of togetherness and working hard for one another.

Then, we come to Dublin and Jim Gavin, and his comment that Aidan O'Shea is the "Best player in Ireland".

Was it mind games, or was he just answering a question honestly? Either way, what he wouldn't add to that thought is that he certainly has a number of the greatest players of Gaelic football in his team.

When it came to debating the best XV from the last 15 years, there is no question Stephen Cluxton is in goal.

After that, you have Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Flynn, and Bernard Brogan. All contenders, some nailed-on. All that, before you include the 2013 Footballer of The Year, Michael Darragh Macauley.

Going back to their quarter-final win over Fermanagh, perhaps the sense of joy around that game prevented a forensic analysis of Dublin's performance.

Certainly, it was the type of game that Dublin were never going to be given any credit for winning, no matter what way it would have ended up.

Fermanagh have given teams hope that you can get at this Dublin team and that you will score. But it's addressing their scoring threat at the other end that will be the problem for Mayo.

From a Dublin point of view, when you are going into such a massive game, that's not ideal. You would like to be battle-hardened and you can't say that about this Dublin team at the minute.

Mayo had a better workout against Donegal, the side that many were hailing only a few weeks earlier as the best team in the country.

Looking over last weekend's game, we can see how kick-out strategies have gone through the roof in terms of deciding the final outcome.

The dilemma facing Mayo is that they want to play with a sweeper, but if they are going to push up on the Dublin kick-outs, then they have to go man-to-man. It could work and it has worked for them in the past.

But if the ball goes over the top to Cluxton's targets of Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly, you would be investing a lot of hope in your man-markers.

No matter how quick you are, if they win possession in those areas, then it is going to take a few seconds for a sweeper to get back into position. That's the dilemma facing Mayo.

Despite that, I am tipping Mayo. They have added a few tweaks with defensive cover and more punch in the attack. They have serious options and they appear to be a team on a mission.

Belfast Telegraph

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