Are Mayo Hearts About to Heal?

DUBLIN, Ire. – Another pilgrimage to Croke Park awaits for thousands of Mayo supporters this Sunday. They are used to traveling to Dublin on the third SUNDAY in September and this stage, unfortunately they are also used to returning empty handed. They will converge on the capital once more in search of that elusive All-Ireland title that has evaded them since 1951.

Mayo fans are no stranger to penance, they have lost seven All-Ireland finals since they last tasted success. An unwanted record awaits the Westerners if they are to fall yet again at the final hurdle this Sunday. Mayo has lost All-Irelands in 1989, 1996, 1997, 2004, 2006, 2012 and 2013, they are tied with Cork who lost seven All-Irelands in a row without success. Mayo’s veteran forward Alan Dillon is going into his eighth All-Ireland, he has yet to get his hands on a trophy. Dillon has lost seven All-Irelands including back-to-back minor titles in 1999 and 2000.

Mayo enters the game on the back of an impressive performance against Tipperary, although at times, their defending in the first half was questionable. Mayo played with a fluidity that they lacked earlier on in the Championship. They are well aware that Dublin are a much different proposition than Tipperary, though. The Dubs overcame Kerry last time out with a convincing display. Dublin is looking for back-to-back titles and will go into Sunday’s game as favorites. They have also won the last four national league titles.

Mayo will rely heavily on Lee Keegan’s attempts to nullify Diarmuid Connolly’s threat in attack for the boys in blue. Connolly is a fantastic footballer, he is equally accurate off both feet, he can control the tempo of the game and can split open a defense in an instant with his vision on the ball. Keegan, in my view, should attack at every option. Having Connolly track him on his characteristic bursting runs forward will see Connolly taken away from the danger area and will limit the amount of time he can attack. Mayo is renowned for their tough tackling style of play, surrounding the opposition at every opportunity to win back possession. Mayo will need to be disciplined with their tackling as Dean Rock will punish them with his free taking ability for any fouls they concede close to goal. Rock has scored 1-45 already in this season’s championship.

It has been rumored that Aidan O’Shea and Barry Moran may play in the full forward line for Mayo, Kerry benefited from kicking long balls into Kieran Donaghy in their semi-final clash with the Dubs and perhaps the Mayo management feels that Moran, with a similar physique to Donaghy, will be able to punish Dublin applying similar tactics to Kerry. Mayo will need a massive game from Aidan O’Shea if it is to come out on top. O’Shea can cause the reigning champions trouble but he will need to contribute more on the score line than in previous games. O’Shea has been drifting out the field winning primary possession but I feel that he is most dangerous closer to goal. Although Cian O’Sullivan is one of the best defenders in the country, I still think that O’Shea will have enough physical strength to go by O’Sullivan and cause the Dublin defense trouble.

There is no doubt that Dublin go into this final as hot favorites. They are the best football team we have seen over the last twenty years. Paul Flynn, one of the best footballers in the country, had an uncharacteristically poor game against Kerry yet the Dubs had enough in reserve to call on the likes of Eoghan O’Gara to come in, he was one of the stand out performers after his introduction.

Mayo is used to coming into each championship season with high expectations from their loyal supporters. This season they were beaten comprehensively by their arch rivals Galway in the Connaught final replay, most expected this season to be one of transition under new manager Stephen Rochford.

Rochford is no stranger to All-Ireland success, he guided club side Corofin to winning the All-Ireland championship in 2015. Coming into Sunday’s final under the radar will suit the men from Connaught. The pressure is off. Talisman Cillian O’Connor will need to have another impressive display this weekend. He has scored 2-28 already this season so far, only Dean Rock has scored more. He will have a tough time up against Johnny Cooper or Philly McMahon but if Mayo want to take Sam Maguire back west he is going to have to win his individual duel.

An enthralling encounter is anticipated, Dublin versus Mayo ties seem to always deliver quality games of football.  I think come Sunday afternoon years of heartache and pain will be healed for the people of Mayo.

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