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Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 8°C
INPHO/Ryan Byrne James Horan has received much praise for the manner in which he has rejuvenated Mayo this year.
# anticipation
6 All-Ireland football final questions for TheScore.ie writers
We look ahead to today’s highly anticipated clash in Croke Park.

Sinead O’Carroll

1. Which manager has done a better job this year – Jim Gavin in his first season or James Horan in picking Mayo back up from 2012?

James Horan. Mayo have a ruthlessness this year that they have previously been missing. He has done some job instilling this in a team within months of losing out in Croke Park.

Previous Mayo teams may not have come through that Tyrone semi-final after starting poorly and losing star forward Cillian O’Connor. They showed some metal to come through and end up winning well. They’re the games that make All-Ireland winners.

2. Who’s the key player for Dublin?

The bench. It’s all about the panel with Dublin. Young Dean Rock and Kevin McManamon could both be crowned Dublin’s Ole Gunnar Solskjær after this year’s campaign. But to have those capabilities coming in fresh after 40/50 minutes on what is likely to be a warm September afternoon could be key to a Dublin victory.

3. Who’s the key player for Mayo?

Cillian O’Connor. Is he fit? Will he start? And if he does, will he be able for a All-Ireland final against Dublin with that recurring shoulder injury? Memories of Henry Shefflin’s 2010 12 minutes come to mind, hopefully it won’t be the same for O’Connor and he can lead the charge.

4. A key factor next Sunday will be…

Bottle. Will Mayo find it?

5. What’s been your favourite football moment this summer?

Without doubt, Kerry v Dublin. Football was the poor cousin to the hurling championship this year until that game. Not wanting to sound like Pat Spillane but sometimes the man is just correct. It was football as football should be played.

6. Who will lift the Sam Maguire Cup next Sunday and why?

Ah, I typed Mayo and then deleted it because I’m not sure if that was my heart ruling my head. As I said, that ruthlessness that Mayo have found this year could bring them across the line but Dublin’s strength all over the pitch, as well as the bench, has me nervous about that prediction. Go on then, a draw.

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Patrick McCarry

1. Which manager has done a better job this year – Jim Gavin in his first season or James Horan in picking Mayo back up from 2012?

I’m going to go for Jim Gavin. James Horan has got Mayo playing some fantastic football and I could look foolish if his forwards annihilate Dublin’s porous defence. Gavin has managed a team under a huge weight of expectation [remember the 'Should we split Dublin' farrago?] He has got them playing hard and fast with an eye for goal too.

2. Who’s the key player for Dublin?

Dublin will need Bernard Brogan and Stephen Cluxton to find their free-taking range as it can’t be all about goals. Kevin McMenamon and Dean Rock may be needed off the bench again but I’ll go for Ciarán Kilkenny. When he has fired this championship summer, The Dubs have looked a real attacking force.

3. Who’s the key player for Mayo?

I’d imagine I am not the only person typing this but I’ll go with Aidan O’Shea. He has been immense all summer and, with Cillian O’Connor doubtful/carrying a shoulder injury, his influence on the game, from midfield, will be vital to Mayo’s success. Dublin have a much praised tactic of dominating kick-outs but could well meet their match in the man with the fringe.

4. A key factor next Sunday will be…

Can the Dublin defence hold out Mayo’s irresistible attack? Kerry tore into The Dubs from the outset, causing Ger Brennan to be hauled off, but Gavin’s men never panicked and kept in touch on the scoreboard. Mayo have a superb attack too but are younger and fitter, as a unit, than Kerry.

5. What’s been your favourite football moment this summer?

London’s success in beating Sligo and Leitrim to reach the Connacht final. You could see how much the victories meant to them and they brought some excitement to a football season that has been overshadowed by the hurling giantkillers.

6. Who will lift the Sam Maguire Cup next Sunday and why?

Heart says Dublin but my head says Mayo will end their long-running drought. Horan’s men have looked supreme all championship summer and have scorers all over the park. The Dublin defence is looking decidedly iffy too.

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Paul Fennessy

1. Which manager has done a better job this year – Jim Gavin in his first season or James Horan in picking Mayo back up from 2012?

James Horan. Dublin knew they invariably underperformed last year despite winning another Leinster title, so the only way was up for them. Mayo, on the other hand, were so impressive for much of the campaign, so it must have been especially difficult to motivate them to do it all again after falling at the final hurdle previously.

2. Who’s the key player for Dublin?

Dublin have several players who could have a huge influence on proceedings. Jack McCaffrey’s pace is difficult for any defence to deal with, Cian O’Sullivan delivered an exceptional performance in alleviating the threat of Gooch in the semi, Stephen Cluxton’s nerves of steel could again prove pivotal and Kevin McManamon’s impact from the bench has been well documented. But for sheer experience and ability to effect games, it has to be Bernard Brogan, who may be even more eager than usual to prove a point having been taken off against Kerry.

3. Who’s the key player for Mayo?

Aidan O’Shea has long been the fulcrum of this Mayo side and his form seems better than ever this year, as his Man-of-the-Match display against Donegal emphasised. Dublin don’t have the most physical of midfields, so if Mayo get on top, O’Shea could thrive. And if the 22-year-old does inspire the side to glory, he might even be allowed into Everleigh Garden this time.

4. A key factor next Sunday will be…

The bench. Dublin have used it with supreme effect in recent times, with their semi-final against Kerry being a prime example of their efficiency in this regard. What each manager does at half-time and how Mayo cope with the expected Kevin McManamon-inspired onslaught late on may ultimately decide the match.

5. What’s been your favourite football moment this summer?

The semi-final between Dublin and Kerry purely for entertainment value – it’s been a long time since I can remember such a thrilling game that had me shouting at the TV on a more or less constant basis. However, the purist in me would opt for Mayo’s ruthless destruction of Donegal. Has there been a better performance by a side this decade?

6. Who will lift the Sam Maguire Cup next Sunday and why?

Mayo have arguably looked the more impressive team this year, but I’m going to opt for the Dubs. Playing in Croke Park does give them a slight advantage, and they have the experience of winning it in 2011. It’ll probably be closer than last year’s final, but Jim Gavin’s men have been good at doing just about enough to prevail in recent times, and should do so again on Sunday.

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Steven O’Rourke

1. Which manager has done a better job this year – Jim Gavin in his first season or James Horan in picking Mayo back up from 2012?

Without wanting to sit on the fence won’t that really depend on who comes out on top on Sunday? Both teams would have expected to reach the All-Ireland final this year at a minimum so we can really only judge them based on Sunday’s game. If I have to pick one, I’ll say James Horan because Mayo, from a neutral point of view, have been more fun to watch than Dublin this year, with the very notable exception of the Kerry game.

2. Who’s the key player for Dublin?

As others have already said, the bench will play a huge role but so too will Stephen Cluxton. If he can keep his head when all around him are losing theirs, then Dublin will probably prove too strong for Mayo. There were rumours earlier this week – refuted by Dublin – that the ‘keeper was struggling with a hamstring injury so it will be interesting to see his first long range free on Sunday.

3. Who’s the key player for Mayo?

The entire defence. As good as the Connacht champions have been at scoring goals this year, they’ve been even better at not conceding them. We saw what Dublin did to Kerry in the latter stages of their semi final but I just don’t see any team, not even Dublin, being able to do the same against Mayo. If their backline can reduce the Dublin forwards to just point scoring opportunities, they really put themselves in the driving seat. 

4. A key factor next Sunday will be…

Joe McQuillan. That might seem like a cheap shot but it’s really not. McQuillan, rightly or wrongly, got a lot of stick for his performance in the 2011 final and the game Sunday could come down to how the Cavan man referees it. Will he bow to the pressure to whistle for soft frees in front of the Hill?

5. What’s been your favourite football moment this summer?

London beating Sligo. Of course it wasn’t a vintage Sligo team but you can only beat what’s in front of you and for London to do that, and go on to reach a Connacht final, was pretty special. 

6. Who will lift the Sam Maguire Cup next Sunday and why?

I’d love for Mayo to win it based on how well they’ve played this year but you don’t win any team prizes for attractive football. I honestly believe Dublin have the stronger panel and, when they empty their bench, that will tell in the end. Dublin by two points.

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Paul Hosford

1. Which manager has done a better job this year – Jim Gavin in his first season or James Horan in picking Mayo back up from 2012?

Jim Gavin. He’s taken a team in his first year and not only completely changed their style, he’s brought in young players and gotten to an All Ireland final. James Horan has taken his team through a routine enough provincial, destroyed Donegal and beat a Tyrone side that it’s hard to read too much into.

2. Who’s the key player for Dublin?

Whichever cornerback is marking Cillian O’Connor. The Ballintubber man offers a real goal threat and, after what Kerry got out of the Dubs full back line, goals could be crucial. Jonny Cooper may need to have a big day.

3. Who’s the key player for Mayo?

Obvious enough, but Aidan O’Shea. If Dublin are forced to kick long, then O’Shea could decide the destination of Sam. His fielding and support running will be crucial.

4. A key factor next Sunday will be…

Goals. It’s a cliche, but goals change games. Both teams have the capacity to raise the green flag and the team that does so most will win on Sunday.

5. What’s been your favourite football moment this summer?

As a Cork fan, there’s been little enough to shout about, but the comeback against Galway was something special. Michael Shields’ gut-busting point was eventually the difference and was a joy to behold.

6. Who will lift the Sam Maguire Cup next Sunday and why?

Dublin. Because they have a style of direct running that Mayo haven’t seen this year and will use that to full advantage.

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Niall Kelly

1. Which manager has done a better job this year – Jim Gavin in his first season or James Horan in picking Mayo back up from 2012?

It’s impossible to choose between them. Sending out a team to play slick, attacking football is a bold move for a newbie manager and Gavin rightly deserves praise for taking that risk. Whether or not this Dublin team spark a revolution remains to be seen but we can still appreciate them here and now. That said, the weight of longing and anticipation down in Mayo is a serious cross to bear and Horan’s work in getting this group mentally fit is a triumph in itself.

2. Who’s the key player for Dublin?

Ciaran Kilkenny. Losing a player of Alan Brogan’s quality should put a serious dent in any county’s All-Ireland chances but Kilkenny has stepped in seamlessly to fill the play-making void. The Dubs should thank their lucky stars that he came home from Oz.

3. Who’s the key player for Mayo?

Aidan O’Shea is the obvious choice and will be Footballer of the Year — barring a monstrous performance from Michael Dara MacAuley. Don’t overlook the importance of Alan Freeman though. He stepped up when needed against Tyrone and, if Cillian O’Connor’s shoulder doesn’t hold up, he might need to do it again.

4. A key factor next Sunday will be…

The first 10 minutes. As the old cliche goes, you can’t win an All-Ireland in the first 10 minutes but you can lose one — ain’t that right, Mayo?

5. What’s been your favourite football moment this summer?

It was a real privilege to be in Croke Park for Dublin versus Kerry which was, without a doubt, the best football match I have ever been at. Listening to people who remember more games than I will ever forget describe it afterwards as an all-time classic hammered home the point.

6. Who will lift the Sam Maguire Cup next Sunday and why?

I said Dublin at the start of the summer. I won’t be changing now.

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Fintan O’Toole

1. Which manager has done a better job this year – Jim Gavin in his first season or James Horan in picking Mayo back up from 2012?

Jim Gavin’s adaptation to senior management has been seamless and extremely impressive. But for the feat of hauling Mayo up off the floor after last September’s misery, James Horan deserves immense credit.

2. Who’s the key player for Dublin?

Michael Darragh MacAuley. A midfielder whose dynamism and ability to impact around the park has helped him dictate games repeatedly this summer.

3. Who’s the key player for Mayo?

Aidan O’Shea. The hot favourite for Footballer of the Year and that is a reflection of the manner in which he has elevated his midfield play this season to dominate matches.

4. A key factor next Sunday will be…

Mayo’s start to the game. They got key match-ups wrong early on in last year’s final and suffered the ultimate price as a result. Putting Ger Cafferkey on Bernard Brogan from the start and being tight at the back will  help them settle into the match

5. What’s been your favourite football moment this summer?

Monaghan claiming the Ulster title. Offered persuasive evidence that provincial crowns still matter and particularly for a core of Monaghan’s elder statesmen, it was great to see them being rewarded after years of toil.

6. Who will lift the Sam Maguire Cup next Sunday and why?

Mayo. Cillian O’Connor’s injury offers uncertainty but if they have absorbed the lessons of last year they will be sturdier in defence and there is a greater variety to their attack this year. They have spent years learning from defeats, now is the time to put those lessons into practice.

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