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Murph's Sideline Cut: 'All-Irelands aren't just handed out to those who think they deserve it'

“Mayo have the air of champions-in-waiting,” writes Ciaran Murphy, but they need to walk the walk to beat Dublin.

Can Mayo end 62 years of heartache?
Can Mayo end 62 years of heartache?
Image: INPHO/James Crombie

EOIN MCDEVITT PAINTED an intriguing picture for Dublin on our online radio show with the Irish Times yesterday – what if they are four points up with 10 minutes to go, and Jack McCaffrey gets the ball with 40 yards of open country in front of him? What does Jim Gavin recommend he do then?

To think that Dublin have reached an All-Ireland final playing the way they have, two years after Donegal tried to smother them in an All-Ireland semi-final, and six months after Congress sat down to debate what to do with the walking disaster of a game that was Gaelic football, is quite extraordinary.

The prevailing notion in GAA management is to slavishly mimic whatever worked the year before. If last year’s winners were training at 6am, it was a pretty safe bet that 31 other counties would be up with the lark this year.

For Gavin to step away and decide that playing open, expansive football was not just ‘the right thing to do’ for the game, but also the style of play which most suited the players he had at his disposal, is commendable. It is pragmatism, not idealism, to steal a Radiohead line, but it still takes guts to go against the grain.

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2012 semi: James Horan shakes hands with Dublin’s Paul Flynn as Aidan O’Shea celebrates (INPHO/Cathal Noonan)

In light of Dublin’s achievements, It might be easy to pour scorn on managers who are happy to revel in safety first management, but in truth, if you don’t have players of the quality of Dublin, it makes sense to try and build your success from the back. Gavin has the players, but he also has the courage of his convictions, and I don’t think we’ll see a massive deviation from that on Sunday.

Despite that, they have only met teams so far this year that have been happy to trade punches with them – Kildare, Cork and Kerry all went man for man. They have averaged a barely believable 2-18, but Mayo, it can be safely assumed, will pose a more intriguing test.

Much of the pre-match discussion has centred on Ger Brennan, and where he will line out. I actually played club football with Ger Brennan for a year, with St Vincent’s, and there is absolutely no doubt that he is a very talented footballer. He uses the ball well, his kick-passing is assured, and he is a natural leader.

Having the luxury of a ball-playing centre-back is huge for a team, but will Mayo allow Brennan a roaming brief in front of the Dublin full-back line, without pressing him into rather more pressing work man-to-man on his opponent?

It would be rough justice on him to lose out, but Cian O’Sullivan’s performance when he went back into defence against Kerry in the semi-final may have swung Jim Gavin. Pragmatism, not idealism.

For Mayo, the pressure is intense. Since that crushing win against Donegal in the quarter-final, they have had the air of champions-in-waiting, which I think is unbelievably dangerous talk. I’ve said this a number of places but in what year since 1951 could you say that Mayo have been definitively the best team in the country? And could you say that of them this year, ahead of next Sunday?

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I’m far from sure that you can – Dublin won the league, Dublin have probably met a better caliber of team (Donegal aside, and maybe the events up north this week has cast a different light on that game) on the way to the final, and Dublin are the team with recent All-Ireland success under their belt.

If Mayo were to lose on Sunday, and taking into account the factors I’ve outlined above, they could hardly make a case for them leaving this All-Ireland behind them. It dawned on James Horan a number of years ago, and it is dawning slowly maybe on Mayo people too, that these things aren’t just handed out to those who think they deserve it.

Songs and books have been written, and curses invented, to try and explain why Mayo haven’t won an All-Ireland in 62 years. When the story of the team that broke the hoodoo is written, will the simple explanation be that they were the best team out of the 32 that entered the All-Ireland that year? We might just find out on Sunday.

This Week Murph Was – dressing like an 18 year old Chris O’Dowd live on national television. Thanks to everyone for their kind words regarding the show – we’ll be back on RTE 2 next Wednesday evening at 11pm for Second Captains Live.

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