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Dublin: 11°C Sunday 18 April 2021
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Our writers give their predictions for today's All-Ireland football final

The42 team reveal how they expect things to pan out between Dublin and Mayo.

Jackie Cahill

1. Who is the key player for Dublin?

Diarmuid Connolly Dublin's Diarmuid Connolly in action against Kerry. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Diarmuid Connolly. If Connolly fires on Sunday, Dublin will be well on their way to winning the game. The St Vincent’s man has played in fits and starts this summer but a strong 70-minute display would put Lee Keegan, the man expected to pick him up in a man-marking role, on the back foot. That’s a positive double whammy for Dublin in a game that will be tight.

2. Who is the key player for Mayo?

Colm Boyle. He’s been Mayo’s best and most consistent defender this summer, and played well even in defeat to Galway in the Connacht semi-final. Boyle’s know-how and experience are crucial in a sector that’s seen some change this year and he could be the man to go toe-to-toe with Dublin playmaker Ciaran Kilkenny.

3. A key factor on the day will be…

How Mayo react to the big occasion. They’ve been here before, plenty of times, but a sluggish start from Mayo will have them in all sorts of bother. They got away with it against Tipperary but against a team of superior class and ability, that simply won’t do. If Mayo aren’t at the pitch of it right from the word go, it could be another forgettable September Sunday for a county that have been the bridesmaids for far too long.

4. What’s been your favourite football moment of the summer?

Tipperary’s victory over Galway in the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final. County bias here, of course, but Tipp were superb against the Connacht champions and took to Croke Park extremely well. It set them up for a first All-Ireland semi-final in 81 years and while Mayo were too good, Tipp were one of the stories of the summer. Honourable mention for the Munster semi-final victory over Cork.

Peter Acheson, Conor Sweeney and his father Michael Sweeney celebrate after the game Tipperary's Peter Acheson, Conor Sweeney and his father Michael Sweeney celebrate after the Galway game. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

5. Who will win the Sam Maguire cup and why?

Dublin. The better team usually wins the All-Ireland final and on all known form, Dublin are better than Mayo. That’s not to say that the Westerners won’t come with a big performance, and they’re certainly capable of it, but Dublin have proven that they can adapt to any opposition and break down the invariable sweeper systems that come their way. Mayo are sure to drop an extra man back but Dublin have the class and craft to break them down.

6. Who will win Footballer of the Year?

If Ciaran Kilkenny can exert a big influence on Sunday’s game, he’ll be right in the mix for the individual accolade. Diarmuid Connolly comes into the game in a similar vein and it will take something extraordinary from Mayo, and presumably Aidan O’Shea, to wrestle the player of the year award away from a Dubliner. Jonny Cooper has been excellent defensively for Dublin but if a marquee forward shines, it’s his. Kilkenny to shade it.

Fintan O’Toole

1. Who is the key player for Dublin?

Cian O’Sullivan. Ever since the Donegal defeat in 2014, Dublin’s defensive effort has been remodeled with O’Sullivan critical to the success of it. Mayo are going to need to find a way to unlock a Dublin defence that has conceded under 14 points, three times in their five games to date this summer. The level of influence that O’Sullivan exerts is going to be central to the outcome of this game.

2. Who is the key player for Mayo?

Lee Keegan Mayo's Lee Keegan looks for a pass against Tyrone. Source: Lorraine OÕSullivan/INPHO

Lee Keegan. He is likely to be given the task of policing Diarmuid Connolly again, a match-up that will be pivotal on the day. He showcased his attacking capabilities with the leadership and stunning points against Tyrone. Mayo could do with that again.

3. A key factor on the day will be…

Mayo’s ability to keep out goals. Their last four All-Ireland series exits have been characterised by shipping goals — Donegal (2 in 2012), Dublin (2 in 2013), Kerry (3 in 2014) and Dublin (3 in 2015). Clearly they have worked extremely hard to get that right this year. Mayo have only leaked three goals in six championship games with the clean sheets against Tyrone and Tipperary the key ingredients in those victories. Another shut-out here could be crucial.

4. What’s been your favourite football moment of the summer?

I can’t pick between two. Firstly, the post-match scenes after Tipperary’s landmark win over Galway, a moment for a band of loyal football followers to savour. Secondly, the 10-minute period before half-time of the epic Dublin v Kerry All-Ireland semi-final was one of those thrilling phases of play where a champion team gets a serious gut-check from a challenger.

5. Who will win the Sam Maguire cup and why?

Dublin. The last few Dublin-Mayo games — 2012, 2013 and 2015 — have been trickier to forecast but there is a sense now that Dublin have ramped their game up a few notches. Mayo’s experience and consistency means they cannot be disregarded but Dublin seem to always find a way to win. That relentlessness and resilience can prove key.

6. Who will win Footballer of the Year?

I don’t think there’s been one player who has burned clear of the rest this season. Right now a Dublin player looks most likely and a big final display by Diarmuid Connolly, Ciaran Kilkenny or Kevin McManamon could swing it for them. Aidan O’Shea and Lee Keegan look like Mayo’s leading contenders.

Kevin O’Brien

1. Who is the key player for Dublin?

Stephen Cluxton and David Byrne fail to stop Paul Geaney scoring a goal Dublin's Stephen Cluxton and Davey Byrne fail to stop the ball crossing the line against Kerry. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Stephen Cluxton. The cog that makes the Dublin machine tick. To highlight his importance to the Dublin cause, they only lost five kick-outs in the All-Ireland semi-final, but four of them came during a key eight-minute spell before half-time when Kerry mined 2-2. Cluxton is central to Jim Gavin’s game-plan and if you push up on his kick-outs too often, he’ll expose you further out the field. Mayo need to try and take him out of his rhythm and shut down the spots he feels most comfortable going to.

2. Who is the key player for Mayo?

Andy Moran. For a player who wasn’t on the team until they played Kildare in the qualifiers, he’s become a central part to Mayo’s attack. Mayo have tried to become a kicking team under Stephen Rochford, and Moran is a big reason for that. He thinks that little bit quicker than everybody else and as a result he’s always out in front. If Mayo can find the 32-year-old with quality kick passes inside and get the likes of Diarmuid O’Connor breaking off him at pace, they’ll give Cian O’Sullivan his biggest test yet.

3. A key factor on the day will be…

It’ll all come down to the final quarter. In Dublin’s 27-game unbeaten run since March 2015, they’ve outscored their opponents by 16-111 to 6-73 down the home straight. It’s highly likely the game will be hanging in the balance on 55 minutes, which is when Dublin’s conditioning and bench kicks in. Mayo need to finish fast and furious if they’re to stand a chance.

4. What’s been your favourite football moment of the summer?

There have been a few. The last few minutes of Tyrone’s Ulster final win over Donegal, when Peter Harte and Sean Cavanagh kicked big scores to give Mickey Harte his first provincial title in six years. Galway stunning Mayo in Connacht was sensational, while Tipperary’s display of attacking football in their quarter-final defeat of the Tribesmen will live long in the memory. But the Dublin-Kerry semi-final was the game of the year — so far.

Peter Harte celebrates at the final whistle Tyrone's Peter Harte celebrates after his side's Ulster championship success. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

5. Who will win the Sam Maguire cup and why?

Mayo. I backed them to win it at the start of the season so I’m going to stick to my guns. I can’t shake the sense that history’s hand is guiding the Westerners towards this All-Ireland title. They’ve got the athleticism to match the Dubs, while I expect Stephen Rochford to pull a tactical rabbit or two out of the hat on the day. It’ll be awfully close the whole way through, but I see Mayo edging it in the final few minutes.

6. Who will win Footballer of the Year?

Leeroy Keegan. The man who has conceded just a point from play this year despite keeping tabs on the danger men of Mayo’s opponents all year. Rather than bombing forward every time Mayo attack, he’s now better picking his moments to join the attack and kick scores. Mayo will depend on his defensive nous and leadership around the middle third and he’ll likely be charged with shackling Diarmuid Connolly. I think he has a performance for the ages in him and will become the second straight wing-back to collect the top award.

Alan Waldron

1. Who is the key player for Dublin?

James McCarthy. The Ballymun Kickhams wing-back should be much better for his run-out against Kerry after an injury-interrupted championship campaign. Dublin missed McCarthy’s athleticism off the half-back line and while Ciaran Kilkenny filled the gap ably, a marauding McCarthy is a different animal. Cian O’Sullivan is the chief organiser of the defensive system but McCarthy is the primary link-man between attack and defence and a vital component of Jim Gavin’s free-flowing game-plan.

2. Who is the key player for Mayo?

Diarmuid O’Connor. O’Connor is another who has had his championship hampered by injury. The wing-forward and reigning Young Footballer of the Year was an early front-runner for the top individual gong this year, starring for Mayo’s seniors after helping the county’s U21s to All-Ireland glory. O’Connor missed Mayo’s qualifier win against Westmeath with a dead leg and his form since hasn’t quite reached the heights of earlier in the year, yet. But he can do it all; a supreme athlete who has a gift of a right foot and an eye for goal. He will give John Small a serious test and Mayo might see his individual battle with Small as an opportunity for them to get a foothold in Dublin territory.

Diarmuid O'Connor causing Tipperary problems. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

3. A key factor on the day will be…

The impact of the substitutes. It’s funny that Dublin’s bench isn’t perhaps feared as much now that Kevin McManamon is nailed on for the starting XV, despite Jim Gavin’s best attempts to make us think otherwise with his faux team-sheets. Mayo have plenty in reserve too, and across the board with Alan Dillon, Conor O’Shea, Tom Parsons, Evan Regan and Conor Loftus among those Stephen Rochford can call on. But Dublin seem to still be well ahead in this department with Paddy Andrews, Paul Mannion, Eoghan O’Gara, Cormac Costello and Con O’Callaghan all capable of changing the game, while Denis Bastick offers valuable experience in the middle of the field when the match is in the melting pot.

4. What’s been your favourite football moment of the summer?

Honourable mentions go to the qualifier runs of Longford and Clare and to the heroics, and attractive style of play, of the Tipperary footballers in reaching the final four. But that semi-final between Kerry and Dublin was very special. It was a post-cinema like atmosphere around Croke Park that Sunday evening; 80,000-odd people had been absorbed in another dimension for the previous 90 minutes and found themselves wearily rubbing their eyes as they returned to the real world, asking each other: “how good was that?”.

5. Who will win the Sam Maguire cup and why?

Dublin. I expect Mayo to give them a serious rattle but the Dubs seem to have all the answers right now. Dublin by three points.

6. Who will win Footballer of the Year?

Diarmuid Connolly. The St Vincent’s man made a blistering start to this championship campaign with outstanding displays against Laois and Meath and it looked like he would kick on to deliver a string of individual performances to make this year his own. While he has not been as clinical since, he has continued to be one of Dublin’s most effective performers and has provided some magical moments — his final point against Kerry being Exhibit A. A big game from him against Mayo, although the same could be said of Brian Fenton, Ciaran Kilkenny, Kevin McManamon and Cian O’Sullivan, and the award is his. How Colm Boyle isn’t deemed to be in the reckoning is beyond me. He has been one of Mayo’s best all year; he sets the tone in their defence with his effective and abrasive style, while his ability to get forward has taken some of the pressure off Lee Keegan and Keith Higgins to constantly do likewise.

Sean O’Regan

1. Who is the key player for Dublin?

Ciaran Kilkenny Ciaran Kilkenny is a key player for the Dubs. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ciarán Kilkenny. He may have only scored five points this year in championship football but the work he does that goes unnoticed is phenomenal. With the emphasis on possession in the modern game, Kilkenny’s 225 possessions and work-rate this summer will be vital for Dublin.

2. Who is the key player for Mayo?

Lee Keegan. The Westport clubman is of immense importance for his county, breaking forward to create chances up top while not relinquishing his duties at the back. He just needs to cut the fouls out of his game if he is to aid Mayo in their quest for Sam.

3. A key factor on the day will be…

Kick-outs. The starting point now for building attacks is the kick-out, so Stephen Cluxton and David Clarke will have to be in fine form come Sunday. Dublin’s number one for the last decade and a half has adapted his game and now, as seen in the Kerry match, varies between long and short kick-outs to provide that vital platform to attack. Clarke appears to go for the traditional approach of the long ball into the middle third, which is justified when you see the O’Sheas or Tom Parsons claim a high ball.

4. What’s been your favourite football moment of the summer?

The Leicester City-esque adventure that Clare and Tipperary experienced throughout the summer. For Clare to regroup after a 12-point loss to Kerry in the Munster semi-final and then go on to beat Laois and Roscommon before ultimately losing to Kerry again in Croke Park was something for all supporters to behold. Even more so, Tipperary’s adventure under the management of Liam Kearns. After being outclassed by the Kingdom in the Munster final, their run brought unrivalled excitement back to the championship and to the supporters of Tipperary football.

5. Who will win the Sam Maguire cup and why?

Dublin for the sole reason that they know how to respond when they go behind in big games on big days, as seen in the semi-final v Kerry. They won’t panic. After Cluxton’s 10-minute meltdown, the boys in blue recovered to claim a memorable win. If Mayo are leading into the home straight, I’d be fearful that nerves could kick in and silly mistakes could follow seeing as it will be the first time they find themselves in an All-Ireland winning position. Dublin by four.

6. Who will win Footballer of the Year?

One of the Dubs for sure, win or lose on Sunday. Brian Fenton has gone from strength to strength in midfield and has already surpassed himself after a great 2015 campaign which saw him win man of the match in last year’s final. Another possible and deserving winner would be Kilkenny. He won’t be up for the championship’s top scorer like other half-forwards around the country, but his work-rate, ability to obtain possession and ability to create chances is something that will surely stand to him when the final decision is being made.

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