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exclusive How Mayo will bring a huge energy to Croke Park and have no fear of the Dubs

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Brian Fenton of Dublin in action against Matthew Ruane of Mayo during the  All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park in August 2019

Brian Fenton of Dublin in action against Matthew Ruane of Mayo during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park in August 2019

SPORTSFILE

Brian Fenton of Dublin in action against Matthew Ruane of Mayo during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park in August 2019

Every All-Ireland final is a very special occasion and all are remembered but next Saturday’s final will never be forgotten. The magnificent stadium will be practically empty but the one thing that will never change is the commitment and work-rate from the two teams.

Both sides know each other very well at this stage and in a lot of ways, the two teams are very alike. Mayo have this incredible energy that they bring to Croke Park and with it, a belief that they can beat anyone.

The narrow defeats to Dublin have been sickening but they don’t complain and they don’t feel sorry for themselves and those qualities put them ahead of most other teams in the country. They refuse to go away – and that makes them very dangerous.

This same Mayo team were relegated to the second division only a few months ago but that only seemed to make them more determined, while other teams would have lost confidence and belief at the most important time of the season.

I can say with confidence that all the near misses over the last decade and beyond have been forgotten and this week they will be jumping out of their skins at the thought of finally bridging a sixty nine-year gap since their last win at this level.

The fact that the loyal, vocal and fanatical Mayo following won’t be there may well be a blessing in disguise. One feels that the players have one less distraction, for the want of a better phase.

It will be a strange occasion but a full house at headquarters can have a massive positive or negative effect on a game, depending on scores for or against, and one has to ask the question – have empty stadiums helped this changed Mayo team to get back to another final?

Dublin, on the other hand, just keep on doing what they do better than anyone else and that is win championship matches. It is really impressive to see it all unfolding each game and perhaps the most impressive part of it all is that they don’t do anything extraordinary.

It almost sounds too simple but when you break down their performances over the last decade or so, it is hard to pinpoint any one or two magic moments that turned them into the winning machine they have become.

While Pat Gilroy can be rightly credited with turning a “losing” county in champions back in 2011 through hard work and graft, it is Jim Gavin who moulded the group into what they have become today.

The big thing for me is the unselfish nature of the individuals in the group and that wasn’t always the case. There were many little things that Jim had to introduce in that first year in charge but for me, his insistence that any player who was substituted must shake his hand coming off the field was a masterstroke.

It taught the players to respect the “decision” and also more importantly respect the player who was coming into the battle. Gavin created the culture through respect and hard work and his players responded in kind.

That culture is now in place and when you have healthy competition and talented young players coming into that type of set-up, the results follow.

That, by the way is something that money can’t buy so let’s not get too bogged down on funding as the major issue facing the GAA when it comes to Dublin and the rest.

There will be no talk of funding issues if Mayo win next weekend. Instead, what we will have is a re-energised Saturday game panel who will act like Christmas has come early.

And I would give Mayo a serious chance – as I would Kerry if they had made it to the final. Mayo will bring what Mayo always bring and that will ensure that this final will not be a one-sided affair.

Mayo look you in the eye, go toe to toe and you know that they will try to the very end. That’s what makes them so hard to beat and they seem to thrive when they are the underdog.

They will, however, need to have addressed the defensive problems that offered a division three team so many goal chances in the last game. Dublin certainly won’t butcher the same opportunities so that has to be a cause for concern.

Dublin are utterly ruthless and are past masters at winning by one or twenty one, which is another great strength they possess.

Are they capable of having an off day – an off day that would hurt them enough to lose the game? I think that’s always a possibility. Ssport is sport after all and no result at this stage of the competition is a certainty.

But this is no ordinary group of players and one senses the more they win, the hungrier they get.

Mayo will have to be extraordinary in every department on Saturday to get the result they crave but they just aren’t at that level yet so I expect the run to continue and debate to rage on.

Whatever, happens, splitting Dublin is a comical suggestion. Weakening Dublin would be sweet music to most but you have to ask the question – who would it benefit most?

Taking Dublin “out” would clear a path for Kerry to win six of the next eight All-Irelands. Is that what we really want?

It certainly won’t help Leitrim, Carlow, Antrim, Sligo and many more. The big issue is population and Dublin have it and most of the rest don’t.

I don’t actually think that this part of it is solvable but the debate about Dublin needs to change direction and the nonsensical talk needs to stop.

Online Editors


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