Play the game Mayo, not the occasion and not the history

Seamie McGeown, the Crossmaglen trainer, and myself run five or six days a week in Markethill. Seamie would be regularly on the phone with Tony McEntee, whom he worked alongside when the club won the All-Irelands in 2011 and ‘12. Tony and myself? We’d always talk when we see each other but I wouldn’t be bothering him on the blower and he wouldn’t be bothering me.

Play the game Mayo, not the occasion and not the history

Recently, Tony sent me a message through Seamie – “Keep writing off Mayo”. He’s not the first person from the Mayo direction to say that to me this year or the first county – I got a lashing from Donegal earlier in the year.

You’ve got to stick with what you believe in. In layman’s terms, I don’t think Mayo are playing well enough to win an All-Ireland. That’s always what I’ve been trying to express when I’m writing. We’re told there are a lot of variables going into this weekend and most of them revolve around Mayo. That there’s one big game in Mayo. That they haven’t performed yet. That they’ve been beating teams while not playing all that well. If that’s what you’re basing Mayo’s chances on, your logic won’t hold water in the heat of battle.

Mayo know that and they appreciate if that formline holds, Dublin will need to be seriously under-powered on the day. I do believe had Mayo met Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland final they would have had more of a chance but I can’t see Dublin being as vulnerable again.

Dublin realise they’re fallible and unless they’re at the top of their game, they’ll be caught. Look at their performances going back to the start of the championship; they have been winning quite comfortably. They know they need a bit more. People have spoken about their standards and they’re scarily high and it seems they are able to maintain them now better than ever before.

It’s put out there that the Dublin full-back line is struggling but I’ve yet to see any evidence to suggest that is the case. Mayo do have an opportunity to test them by situating somebody at centre-forward to ask questions of Cian O’Sullivan but I’m not sure if Cillian O’Connor is that player. He hasn’t been performing well while the short, diagonal runs Andy Moran has succeeded in making won’t be so prominent against this Dublin defence. I sound like a parrot now, but O’Sullivan is the best sweeper in the game and he can read things before they happen. He’ll know all about Moran’s movements.

At the other side of the field, Mayo have done well to stop the penetrating runs through the heart of their defence. Colm Boyle has been holding the line well and Donie Vaughan, being a natural defensive midfielder, has that instinct to fill into that hole. But the problem for Mayo is they don’t mark enough of the space. In the Tyrone game, Mattie Donnelly enjoyed freedom on each side of the “D” and Dublin will have noticed it also happened in the other Mayo games against Fermanagh, Tyrone and Tipperary. Mayo can be hurt at the sides. If they are to prevail they must protect those sections much better.

I genuinely believe Mayo will employ a sweeper. Barry Moran filled that job against Tipperary but this is more of a game for Kevin McLoughlin, who offers a bit more when counter-attacking. He can just switch it on, say “go” to himself and attack the game.

Mayo are going to have to do that at some stage of the final and by that I mean playing with absolute abandon. I can see it happening earlier in the game than most would expect. They have proven to be at their best when they don’t have to think a lot about their football. Go back over the years, back to last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, and you see them spark when they’ve been six or seven points down. When they threw everything at it, they were almost irresistible and we saw how Kerry hit Dublin with a short blitz.

I was in Mayo last weekend, Louisburgh and Charlestown, and I don’t know if it’s a concerted effort but there wasn’t a huge amount of flags. The mood seems to be fairly downbeat and it could be the thing that helps this year. Sunday has to be treated as a game, not an occasion. That hasn’t happened in the past. They’ve blown up their own more than anybody else. They’re as passionate as ever but things are on an even keel. It means one less excuse but it’s still a Dublin win for me.

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