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Talk is cheap when it comes to winning Sam Maguire


Joy and pain: Mayo left heartbroken at Croke Park yet again after defeat in last year's final to Donegal

Joy and pain: Mayo left heartbroken at Croke Park yet again after defeat in last year's final to Donegal

©INPHO/James Crombie

Joy and pain: Mayo left heartbroken at Croke Park yet again after defeat in last year's final to Donegal

Nothing divides opinion, quite as much as opinion.

Never are there more opinions than in the week of an All-Ireland final. Without Ulster involvement this year, the clubhouses and hotels of the province are going to be quieter than they would had Donegal or Tyrone squeezed their way into the decider.

The last decade has seen the rise of the 'Chat Night', where journalists, pundits and current and former players share a platform.

Such nights fall into two categories; the po-faced dry type when the din from the bar steadily escalates to drown out those on the pedestal, or the more irreverent evenings when guests will spark off each other and the event becomes more anecdote-driven.

Either way when it comes down to delivering verdicts on the big match, there are touchstones that will get an airing as to their importance in picking a winner.

One of those is tradition. There is a certain breed of GAA fan that will always believe, for example, that Kerry cannot be beaten in an All-Ireland final.

Back in the 2006 final, one of the Mayo forwards was making his way to his position at the start of the game and while he was walking backwards facing the throw-in, trod on the boot of his marker.

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Instinctively, he made a 'Jeez, sorry about that' conciliatory remark to the Kerry player who instantly recognised that the apology was a sign of weakness and Mayo were not in the right frame of mind. And so it played out as Kerry killed the game stone dead in the opening half.

Tradition may have meant something then but with the emergence of sports science in the GAA, it does not have the same weight.

Gone is the 'you have to lose one before you can win one' school of thought. Nowadays players have motivational quotes plastered on the walls of dressing rooms. They are familiar with YouTube clips of inspirational deeds such as the father and son duo Rick and Dick Hoyt. A copy of 'Bounce' by Matthew Syed, or Daniel Coyle's 'The Talent Code' is almost required reading on the county players' syllabus.

Then there is the media coverage, the betting odds, and how that might affect either camp. This is a particularly rich seam of debate.

How many times have we heard, for example, that players do not read newspapers?

Just to take you to one side, the most hilarious example of this came in the documentary that tailed Paul Galvin around for a while, 'Galvinised'.

One of Galvin's proclamations that he never read newspapers appeared hollow when he was filmed going through a stack of them, a matter of minutes later in the film.

The verdicts of journalists can often have a greater effect on players than what might be expected. Player ratings are often the most scrutinised item on a page carrying a match report, which always struck me as slightly odd.

Giving an accurate reading out of a score of 10 has always seemed an inexact science given that the health of a player, along with instructions of his role, will always be largely unknown to the person holding up the scorecards.

There also is the wilful deception that some cloak themselves in. On the morning of the 2002 All-Ireland football final, the majority of the Irish broadsheet newspapers were tipping Armagh to beat Kerry.

Perhaps it was a line he was fed and he genuinely had not seen the papers that day, but one of the first things Benny Tierney said in his post-match interview was that everyone had written off their chances.

The important thing to remember is this; opinions are formed by using the evidence available to the journalists and pundits, along with their own measure of prejudices.

In the lead-up to big finals, what is printed in newspapers is analysed and scrutinised by those connected to the teams.

Even if some players are successful in shielding themselves from the hype, the messages coming back from those that consume the media will sink in to a certain extent.

This Sunday, Mayo will face the hyped-up juggernaut of Dublin. But tradition and recent history is against them.

The media coverage will reflect that and despite the constant message from Mayo that they measure themselves against their own targets, the perception of their team will be an important motivation.

And if they end their 62-year wait for Sam, they will also shed the image of Mayo as 'chokers'. There won't be a dry eye in the house.

That's why we turn up every week, and why the appetite for discussion, conjecture and opinion will always be important in sport.

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