Will Dublin beat Mayo? Or will Mayo beat Dublin? Or what odds another draw? From the minute the final whistle blew in the drawn All-Ireland final speculation on the likely outcome of the replay has ebbed and flowed on tides of speculation.
There has been a lot of fun in it, but cliché has rarely been too far from the surface in this speculation: ‘Mayo missed their chance’, ‘Dublin can’t be as bad again’, and so on. And on.
And it’s all fine – but, at its core, it is a prize fool who speaks with certainty about the outcome of the replayed final. All certainty in predicting the result of a match between two teams who have been locked together this tightly for several years now reeks of guff.
It is of course possible to make a strong case Dublin will win: They have a better goalkeeper, they have better forwards, and it’s not clear Mayo have anybody to match Brian Fenton. Against that, Mayo have grounds for confidence. The endless talk about ‘the process’ and Dublin being close to unbeatable means nothing to Mayo — indeed, in general it has been revealed as being more than a little silly. Dublin are a superb team, but they are not, of course, untouchable.
Further, just as Dublin’s forwards have much room for improvement, so do Mayo’s forwards — not to mention their midfield. The notion they left the last game behind them is a strained one. They could have won, it is true — but so could Dublin.
And the Dublin defence was just as on top of things as their Mayo counterparts were the far end. It is likely — though not certain — both teams will make changes for the replay.
The extent of those changes and their impact will go a long way to shaping the game.
Dublin will probably change their full-forward line. Either Eoghan O’Gara or Diarmuid Connolly will surely move to the edge of the square. Denis Bastick is a good bet to start at midfield, meaning Kevin McManaman and Michael Darragh MacAuley may revert to the bench.
Mayo might start with Chris Barrett, push Donal Vaughan towards Brian Fenton, try Cillian O’Connor or Andy Moran at centre-forward, and throw Evan Regan in from the start. For all the science now wrapped around modern sport, these are all subjective judgment calls and the decision to stick-or-twist with players will ultimately come from the gut.
And, to add to the uncertainty, what about the referee? How will he respond to the nonsense that has been pedalled in respect of the Lee Keegan/Diarmuid Connolly duel? The thing is when you don’t even know who is going to play predicting the result is based on a series of assumptions that are themselves unclear.
And yet millions of euro will be gambled on this match.
And on the following day significant sums of money will also be gambled on GAA football and hurling county finals being played around the country. Those laying bets will be attempting to fuse local knowledge, blind faith, traditional beliefs and more into a decision-making process fraught with risk.
In any given year, more than two-thirds of county finals are won by fewer than three points. That means a mere kick/puck of the ball between the teams — the margin for error is negligible.
And yet increasing numbers of people pour money out of their pockets on wagers that must often fail.
It is a simple truth every year the amount of money gambled on sport in Ireland grows. Securing anything approaching definitive statistics for that precise amount is extremely difficult, but it is understood that Irish people gamble more than €5bn every year.
That amounts to at least €14m per day or €10,000 every minute. It is, of course, true there is nothing new in the idea of gambling on hurling or football matches.
Back in the 18th century, teams of hurlers played each other for stakes of barrels of porter and huge sums of money were wagered on the outcome.
This continued after the foundation of the GAA when bookies ringed the sidelines of GAA matches quoting odds for all to hear.
This was part of a centuries old culture of gambling on sport in Ireland in which people gambled on horse racing and cockfighting and handball and, indeed, anything that involved a contest to which a discernible winner might be found.
But the nature of gambling has undergone a revolution that has enormous implications. It is true more than 1,000 Irish betting shops are still the focus for the great bulk of business and surveys have shown 12% of Irish adults bet with a bookmaker every week.
The growth of online gambling offers an entirely new dimension, however. It is a dimension that means that, if you own a smartphone, every room, every public space is a betting shop. For the perhaps 40,000 Irish people who have a gambling addiction, this presents endless ruinous possibilities.
Anybody who has seen or experienced the devastation this addiction has wrought on the lives of those who are addicted and on their families knows too well the truth of those possibilities.
And even for those who are not addicted, the losses they suffer by gambling online are greater than before — exact figures are difficult to come by but informed sources say that the average wager online is higher than that where people hand the money across a counter in a bookies.
The growing popularity of gambling online is readily apparent by the rising profits made by companies in this area: Paddy Power, for example, saw 77% of its overall profits generated online in 2014.
Irish people contributed handsomely to these profits, to the extent that Ireland is said to have the highest gross gambling revenue by capita in Europe.
How many people will gamble on the Dublin-Mayo replay? What will they base their predictions on?
How will they know — or convince themselves that they know — what will happen?
After the drawn game, it was difficult to fathom what had just come to pass and why it had come to pass, let alone possible to have been able to guess it in advance.
It is why gambling on sport is such a risky, even disastrous, proposition. The old adage about the scarcity of poor bookmakers is rooted in the reality of lived experiences.
Being stark about it, to a greater or lesser extent, predicting this replay — and predicting most matches at the business end of championships — is one big guess.
A brilliant way of putting the prospects for the final comes through the phrase coined last weekend by the great Kerry footballer Jack O’Shea: ‘Dublin should but Mayo could.’
Fine — but no basis for speculating with hard-earned cash.
This is a day to sit snugly on a fence and enjoy the spectacle.