Shane Curran – Mastering the dark arts critical to Mayo winning


Finally it comes around the third Sunday in September. The annual pilgrimage to the city for the GAA’s showpiece event. Apologies to the hurling fraternity but this really is the BIG day.

For Dublin it will be their fourth All Ireland to contest out of the last six, while Mayo have played in three of the last five All Ireland’s. When one thinks of rivalries over the last couple of decades we cast our minds to Meath v Cork and Kerry v Tyrone as the two stand out battles between county’s in their search for the ultimate honour.

Mayo and Dublin may not have hit those heady heights just yet. Certainly not on the scale of Tyrone and Kerry.

This Sunday however for Mayo to exercise the ghosts of the past they will have to bring a rawness and an exceptional level of commitment and aggression if their to be finally crowned All Ireland Champions.

When we analyse and preview games as managers, pundits or so called experts we generally refer to the past to try and paint a picture of the future. Systems, kick-outs, turnovers, sweepers and every other conceivable tactical ploy is talked about.

This stat,that stat and every other possible angle is minutely examined. In minuet detail the game and opposition is broken down to the nth degree.
Managers and coaching staff will watch countless hours of videos. Analysing this , that and the other. Formulating tactics, looking for weaknesses in the opposition and where they can, impose their teams skills and ability’s over the other.

In reality though winning is a mixture of many ingredients. Stats are basically a load of bullshit compiled to give impressions real or imagined of a particular incident or incidents.

Cluxton has 91% success rate on his own kick out, superb in theory but the reality is my good mother could kick most accurately to a waiting Dublin defender whose opponent has willingly done a Usain Bolt down the opposite end. A willing participant in forming a “Blanket Defence”. Other stats used to paint a picture are similarly pointless, like possessions counts of players, whom in most cases rarely effect the outcome.

The one stat that does remain constant and the most important one to Mayo is that they have not won an All Ireland with this present crop of players. That’s real not imaginary.

How they will go about arresting that particular fact will be intriguing. Questions they are a plenty. For one. Can Mayo rid the monkey off their collective backs?

I believe they can and will. Without individually naming players in summarising or predicting the outcome, it’s the collective effort which will be the defining issue on who will be crowned champions and winners of Sam.
There will have to be exceptional performances from a number of men. The most unlikely squad member could become a hero. Match ups with particular emphasis on the oppositions star performers will play a part.
The introduction of an unheralded sub.
All these areas have variables. There will be players who’ll play-beneath their ability but they must not waver in effort or desire .

The invisible stuff the stats guys fail to see, like the selfless run to tackle an opponent or the block that’s goes unnoticed accept to the trained eye, will be most important when the bell finally tolls .

To beat this exceptional and gifted Dublin team you must first match their outstanding athletic ability. Their football skills from keeper to corner forward are of the highest calibre. Their commitment and character has been tested and they’ve come out the best on most occasions.
These are the quality’s of true champions and Dublin are true footballing juggernaut.
The question some like myself are asking though is it a juggernaut with a few soft tyres.

Is Cluxton past his best? The Flynn, Brogan, Connolly triangle is not as sharp as last year. Their goals for Stat – Opps, did I say stat – has seen a huge fall off from last season. Ten frees from twenty two scores against Kerry indicates a significant reliance on Dean Rocks unerring free taking ability.

Mayo too have similar issues I’ll not bore readers by plagiarising the hard work of statisticians.

Most observers know the answers in any event. What Sunday will boil down is quiet frankly this. Can and will Mayo find a way to brutally and clinically devour this Dublin side with a game plan which must include use of the darker arts if there to finally lay the ghosts of the past to rest? Mayo players must take responsibility individually to perform through thick and thin. Take ownership and provide leadership at crucial times .

They will have to bring an intensity (I hate that word) and an incredible level of physical exertion to their play. They will have to bring a meanness and an aggressive streak previously not seen from this bunch of Mayo players. Gamesmanship will play a significant part in the tactical preparations. Jim Mc Guinness’s recent visits to Mayo’s training sessions will surely have focused on identifying who in the Dublin team can be intimidated.

Connolly for one has come in for some rough house tactics this season. I’m sure also, Cluxton’s regular aberrations will not have not gone unnoticed. His temperament at times can be very suspect.
I’d expect Mayo to target him fairly frequently, high balls and disruption to kick outs agitate his rhythm. By extension so to Dublin’s.

In May I visited my local bookies to have my annual couple of flutters on GAA results and potential All Ireland Football winners. At 9/1 I threw a few bob on Mayo to finally reach the holy grail.
If they can master the dark arts (within the rules I hasten to add) along with their undoubted skill the statistics of the past will finally be history. For Mayo and their loyal supporters the only stat that counts come 5pm Sunday 18th Sept is ‘Mayo All Ireland Senior Football Champions 2016 ‘.

Mayo 3 – 12
Dub   1 – 14

Shane Curran
Sportstalk Columnist 


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