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EXCLUSIVE Mayo must introduce fresh legs in second half if they are to beat the Dubs

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Darren Coen of Mayo could make an impact if introduced as a substitute as half-time

Darren Coen of Mayo could make an impact if introduced as a substitute as half-time

Jordan Flynn would provide much-needed fresh legs for Mayo if introduced for the second half

Jordan Flynn would provide much-needed fresh legs for Mayo if introduced for the second half

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Darren Coen of Mayo could make an impact if introduced as a substitute as half-time

Big finish vital for James Horan's side

IT HAS been a year like no other and a totally different style of championship.

But the sofa supporters now have a Christmas climax to look forward this Saturday night.

There is no getting away from the fact that the 2020 championship has been an entirely new experience from the supporters' perspective.

We've missed meeting up before games with friends, no staying out for a few hours longer after the Connacht final - or being game for a trip to Coppers after the semi-final win over Tipperary.

Maybe we have actually missed the almighty scramble for All-Ireland final tickets which leads us every year to putting more irons in the fire than the Farriers' Association of Ireland in the hope that one will turn up a few tickets.

All-Ireland final day is such a special day and the atmosphere around Drumcondra is unique with people gathering just to sample the pre-match atmosphere even if they have no plans to go to the game.

We know two things for certain about Saturday's match. There will be a result - in the event of a draw, extra time will be played and, if needed, there will be a penalty shoot-out.

The only certainty is that Sam Maguire will be presented - but it will not leave Croke Park.

The Mayo fans won't mind. The players will be the symbol of success when they cross the Shannon should they overcome the greatest team of all time.

Once the ball is thrown in the focus switches to what happens on the field.

Regardless of the pandemic the rules are the same - the team which scores more than the other wins the title, though they won't bring the trophy home.

The perennial question is do I think Mayo will win? The honest answer is no.

But I do think they can win provided they fulfil three conditions.

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Jordan Flynn would provide much-needed fresh legs for Mayo if introduced for the second half

Jordan Flynn would provide much-needed fresh legs for Mayo if introduced for the second half

Jordan Flynn would provide much-needed fresh legs for Mayo if introduced for the second half

Every final is a new experience, regardless of whether the players have half a dozen All-Ireland medals in their back pocket or none.

Brian Fenton is one of the greatest midfielders of all time and his influence on Dublin's success cannot be overestimated.

I believe Paddy Durcan should be handed the job of marking him. Granted Fenton will tower over him and his weight advantage would make him an obvious target for Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs.

But Mayo can afford to lose some of those kick-outs. But it is on the ground where Fenton does the real damage and Durcan could match his athleticism and utilise his own attacking instincts which would force Fenton into a defensive role.

Furthermore, Matthew Ruane - who is having a marvellous first full season - could switch on to Fenton for the kick-outs.

Lee Keegan has effectively policed Ciaran Kilkenny before and he should be released from his current orthodox defensive role at corner-back in order to order to follow Kilkenny.

There are few better man-markers around, regardless of the perception that he has taken a step back in terms of his overall contribution. Playing further out the field will also give him an opportunity to attack more

James Horan needs to have a plan to introduce fresh legs at the start of the second half, regardless of the score.

This idea is not based just on what happened in the first ten minutes of last year's semi-final, when Mayo were subjected to a full-metal-jacket assault by Dublin.

There were a lot of tired legs on that Mayo team with the likes of Matthew Ruane, Donie Vaughan, and Seamie O Shea having had little game-time in the previous 11 weeks.

But if Horan had decided to introduce Darren Coen and Jordan Flynn at the break it would allow Kevin McLoughlin and Diarmuid O'Connor to empty their tanks in the first half and then be reintroduced when the game is in the melting pot.

It might sound radical but I believe it is not a gamble. In all their championship clashes against Dublin, Mayo have lacked both impact and experience in the closing stages.

To have any chance of winning Mayo need to focus on the finish as Dublin have a multitude of options and this has been the key difference in many games between this pair.

Since this terrible pandemic the strangeness of our lives has seen a new phrase being coined: 'It is a strange year and anything can happen.'

I'm not confident of a Mayo win. Nonetheless, I'm convinced this will be an almighty test for Dublin.

Success is sometimes a matter of luck and Mayo have not had the rub of the green in any of their All-Ireland finals against Dublin.

Of course, teams create their own luck and being back in another final gives Mayo a chance do that. This team has never bottled it in a championship clash against Dublin and the All-Ireland champions are acutely aware of this.

Indeed, the sight of Dublin brings the best out of Mayo and I believe this will be the case again. Whether it will be sufficient to get them over the line we will have to wait and see.

Sunday World


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