Posted by Christy O'Connor
Thursday 4 August 2016
From our GAA Experts to football fans all over Ireland, this week's Win, Lose or Draw predictions are starting to take shape.
When Mickey Harte delivered Tyrone’s first All-Ireland in 2003, he reflected that winter on the importance of his team’s comeback in the Ulster final earlier that summer. At one stage they trailed Down by nine points before forcing a replay which they would emphatically win. For Harte, Tyrone simply couldn’t afford to lose in Ulster in 2003. They would still have had the back-up of the qualifiers, which they benefitted from in 2005 and 2008 to win All-Irelands, but Harte believed defeat would have deprived Tyrone of sufficient confidence and belief to push on and win a first All-Ireland. Doubts would linger and resurface. In Harte’s opinion, only a team that had won an All-Ireland through the front door could go on to win one through the back door.
Galway had already showed as much in 2001 and time has since proved Harte’s theory to be sound. Over the following 13 seasons, Cork were the only team to buck that trend in 2010. Cork still had the experience of having played in two of the previous three All-Ireland finals but the road opened up for them that summer. They beat Cavan, Wexford and Limerick before advancing past a callow Roscommon. Then Down removed Kerry from the equation. Dublin took out Tyrone. That Dublin side was still struggling with the transformation in their playing style when Cork caught them on the line in the All-Ireland semi-final. In the final, Cork narrowly defeated an average Down side whose kickout strategy malfunctioned and whose defence was wide open.
That Cork team deserved an All-Ireland. This group of Mayo players deserve one even more but the road now is paved with far more booby traps than the one Cork travelled in 2010. Since losing to Galway, Mayo have had to play Fermanagh, Kildare and Westmeath, two of which were difficult games, only decided in the closing minutes.
Now, Mayo have to face off with Tyrone. If they can win on Saturday, they will have to go through a highly confident Tipperary side, and then either Dublin, Donegal or Kerry, to win that elusive All-Ireland. Can Mayo really overcome all those obstacles?
Do Mayo have enough fuel in the tank anymore for that kind of a journey? Has the long road just finally worn them down? Despite all the pain and hardship inflicted from so many hard crashes, Mayo were still invariably always able to stay the distance. In last year’s drawn All-Ireland semi-final, they trailed Dublin by seven points with less than ten minutes remaining and still reeled them in.
In the Connacht semi-final in June, they trailed Galway by four points in the same timespan but when Mayo tried to step on the gas, the engine stalled. In the last ten minutes, Mayo only managed three shots – all from Cillian O’Connor – and never even remotely looked like scoring a goal.
The engine spluttered again last weekend against Westmeath. After looking like they had the game won at half-time, Westmeath charged at Mayo like a rhinoceros in the second half and Mayo just about repelled the charge. If Westmeath had played with the same intensity and energy in the first half as they did after the break, it might have been a totally different result.
Westmeath set up with two sweepers but Mayo still cut them apart in the first half. Mayo tried to hold what they had and almost got caught. When Westmeath threw off the shackles after half-time, they had shaved the deficit down to three points by injury-time. Mayo did close out the game clinically with 1-1 in the dying moments but they were still also desperately trying to protect a lead that looked unassailable 45 minutes earlier.
Mayo have been devastating in patches but they haven’t been able to sustain that pace. Or have they been sparing the fuel for a big push now? A lot of their big players are not operating at that same level but they are still doing enough to get by. Yet does that make them vulnerable, or dangerous, now? In a recent interview, former Tyrone player Ryan McMenamin said that Mayo reminded him of Tyrone in 2008, when they won their last All-Ireland. They struggled through the qualifiers, stumbling past Mayo by one point in Round 4, before exploding once they arrived into an All-Ireland quarter-final in August, and taking off from there. Are Mayo finally ready to ignite now? Can they?
Mayo won’t fear Tyrone, who just squeezed past Donegal in the Ulster final. A lot of their play was slow and ponderous, and devoid of the speed which decimated Cavan, but Tyrone had to play that way with how Donegal were set up. Now that they are in Croke Park, Tyrone look like a team ready to take off.
Tyrone also showed the kind of qualities against Donegal that has them primed for a serious assault now on this All-Ireland. They trailed by 0-9 to 0-4 early in the second-half, a position no other team has overcome against Donegal in Ulster in the last six years. Although they had the breeze, they still had ten more shots at the target in the second-half. In total, Tyrone made 14 turnovers-in-possession, massive numbers against Donegal.
They are pumped for Saturday too for more than just reasons of wanting to advance to an All-Ireland semi-final. They have history with Mayo having lost to them in the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final. Tyrone felt Mayo bullied them that day. Peter Harte had to go off as early as the sixth minute when a well-timed shoulder from Tom Cunniffe left him in a heap. Harte was a young player then but look at the machine he is now?
Twelve of the Mayo starting team that day in 2013 saw game-time last weekend against Westmeath. Only six of that Tyrone team started the Ulster final. Those comparative numbers alone highlight how much experience Mayo still have but have the wheels turned? Is Mayo’s cycle coming to an end? Is this new team Harte has built ready now to take flight?
Mayo will need a massive performance on Saturday if they are to win, and put themselves in a position to become the first side since Cork six years ago to win an All-Ireland through the back-door. No team has even reached an All-Ireland final through the back-door since 2010. And all of that burden and pressure is exacerbated given Mayo’s struggles to get over the line, full-stop.
It won’t be easy but Mayo have the profile, and the make-up, of a side capable of giving it a shot. When Cork won that 2010 All-Ireland, they had lost two of the three previous All-Ireland finals. Cork had compensated for those disappointments by winning two All-Ireland U-21 titles in those same seasons of 2007 and 2009.
Mayo have lost two of the last four All-Ireland finals. They are the current All-Ireland U-21 champions. This squad have the experience and the know-how of getting it done, especially in August. But it’s still going to take everything they have, and more, to win an All-Ireland from their position, and disprove the Mickey Harte theory.
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Tyrone to win: 60%
Mayo to win: 36%
Dublin to win: 83%
Donegal to win: 14%
That's the way the mood is going for this weekend's games - now it's time to make your predictions for the chance to win two All-Ireland Final tickets.
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