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Tyrone's 2005 heroic odyssey can give Mayo squad belief

 

By John Campbell

It was after a stunning 10-match odyssey that Tyrone eventually took delivery of the 2005 All-Ireland football crown in what the then GAA president Sean Kelly described as "the hardest Championship ever won".

In one of the best finals of the Noughties - indeed, of the modern era - the Red Hands pipped Kerry by 1-16 to 2-10, with Peter Canavan grabbing their all-important goal just before half-time.

Now, Mayo are hoping to take a leaf from the book of that famous O'Neill County side by overcoming Dublin in Sunday's decider to bring to an end a title famine that stretches all the way back to 1951.

Just like Tyrone's class of '05, which was peppered with household names such as Ryan McMenamin, Conor Gormley, Philip Jordan, Enda McGinley, Sean Cavanagh, Canavan, Stephen O'Neill and Owen Mulligan, Mayo will bring their own battalion of seasoned troops to the front line on Sunday.

Aidan O'Shea, Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan, Tom Parsons, Seamus O'Shea, Donal Vaughan, Kevin McLoughlin, Andy Moran and skipper Cillian O'Connor underpin a side that have experienced more than their share of heartbreak over recent seasons but view Sunday as redemption day.

O'Connor, a prolific scorer, has led by inspirational example since taking over the captaincy but has his feet firmly on the ground as Mayo put the finishing touches to their preparations.

"A good chunk of us have been in this situation before but we know that our experience has to be harnessed properly now. Just because we have been here before does not mean it will be any easier," he said.

"Our semi-final win over Kerry guarantees us nothing but we have been working hard over this past three weeks and we're ready for the Dubs."

Mickey Harte, of course, masterminded that epic Tyrone success in 2005 and, while he concedes that Mayo have been "on the ropes" during this year's Championship, he believes that they can still offer a robust challenge to Jim Gavin's treble seekers come Sunday.

Harte stated: "Mayo have been written off often this year and have found themselves on the ropes but they are still standing. However, if Dublin play to the standard they revealed against us last month, they will prove hard to stop."

Cavanagh, who skippered Tyrone this year and has since announced his retirement from the inter-county scene, has a vivid recollection of his side's protracted 2005 Championship journey and believes that Mayo's itinerary has helped to make them an even better side.

"In 2005 we played nine games before that final with Kerry and we had the feeling of being invincible," revealed Cavanagh. "I have no doubt that this Mayo side will have that feeling right now. They have come through some tough battles all over the island. What they have to do now is to get it right for one more big game.

"They will bring an intense hunger to the table and this will serve to fire them up even further."

If anything, Canavan is even more positive in his prediction.

"I think Mayo are hardened. They have played twice as many Championship games as Dublin this year. They have been knocking on the door for so long now, they've experienced so many horrible days and so much bad luck, and yet they keep coming back. Sometime the wheel has got to turn," observed Canavan.

Mayo have leapfrogged Tyrone and Kerry in the overall football ratings and have ran Dublin closest in the All-Ireland Championship of late by drawing with them in last year's final before losing out in the replay by 1-15 to 1-14.

Their manager Stephen Rochford makes no bones about what he expects from his side on Sunday.

"While our display against Kerry was good, it will need to be even better if we are to get across the line on Sunday," insisted Rochford.

"We have had three weeks in which to top up on our fitness and work on other things, so we are well prepared. We have also have had an opportunity to plan for whatever conundrums the opposition might bring, so we feel we are ready."

  • All-Ireland SFC Final: Croke Park, Sunday, 3.30pm

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