Former Mayo player Liam McHale at yesterday's Vodafone preview event of next Sunday's game. Sportsfile.
Chasing Sam

Liam McHale: 'In Mayo we'd prefer if Ger Brennan started centre-back'

The former Mayo midfielder also believes Andy Moran is ‘way off what he was last year’ as the build-up continues to Sunday’s All-Ireland final.

IN MAYO’S SEARCH for Sam Maguire, Liam McHale has emerged as a central character.

He lost as a player in finals in 1996 and 1997 before standing on the sideline as a selector in the 2004 meltdown against Kerry.

Next Sunday he will be an observer in Croke Park as the latest attempt takes place by a Mayo team to end their long famine.

McHale hasn’t lost touch with modern Gaelic football. A recent stint coaching the Clare senior footballers preceded his role in steering St Brigid’s to All-Ireland glory last St Patrick’s Day.

Last weekend he was helping guide St Brigid’s to a narrow Roscommon semi-final win over Clann na nGael.

But this week he’s focusing on next Sunday and is considering the key questions concerning Mayo and Dublin just like everyone else. Here are his answers.

1. Is this Mayo’s best chance of lifting Sam?

“I thought last year was a great chance. I figured last year that the favourites tag on Donegal would weigh heavily on them. And it did, they didn’t play well in the All-Ireland final compared to how they played in the semi and the quarters.

“I don’t think this year represents a better chance. I still think they have a chance and I’d be reasonably confident. The unfortunate thing for us is that Bernard Brogan appears to be picking up his form, and Diarmuid Connolly is starting to play well. So it’s going to take a really top-class performance from Mayo.”

2. To start or not to start Cillian O’Connor?

“You can’t carry him. I believe he played an A v B in Johnstown House at the weekend and he came through that. You’re as well to start him. If you don’t start him and he comes on and goes off again in five minutes, you’re after losing two subs.”

imageMayo’s Cillian O’Connor
Pic: INPHO/James Crombie

3. Where does Andy Moran’s form stand?

“Andy struggling to get back fit after the knee operation is a big concern. Andy is way off what he was last year and the year before. Andy is flying in training, nobody trains harder than him. I hope he hasn’t done too much now and hasn’t over-cooked himself.”

4. How crucial is the start to the game for Mayo?

“I’d like to think we’ll be a little defensively minded. The game has to be tight at half-time. We can’t afford to concede early goals. There’s been talk there might be a sweeper employed.

“It’s all speculation. We just can’t play a sweeper role with that kind of high line we’ve been using all season. We need to be careful, make sure our six backs do their job defensively, leave no gaps.”

5. What’s the best way to threaten the Dublin defence?

“In Mayo, no disrespect to Ger Brennan, but we’d prefer if Ger Brennan started centre back because we can match up Alan Dillon with him.

“If Cian O’Sullivan goes centre back and Denis Bastick goes into midfield, in my opinion, we have to put Dillon into the full forward line.

“Because those three guys will kill him athletically and we don’t want our best ball player running around chasing fellas in our own back line.”

imageDublin’s Ger Brennan
Pic: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

6. Where is the best place to deploy Keith Higgins?

“The Keith Higgins thing, I don’t know if he should be playing in the forwards. Keith Higgins is the most experienced back. Considering the forwards Dublin have I think he should be matching up with (Paul) Mannion or Bernard Brogan.

“I’d have no issue bringing in Mickey Conroy or Cathal Carolan, with Keith in the backs as I don’t know if he gives us a whole lot in the forwards. I don’t think he’ll do it though.”

7. Can Alan Freeman step into the attacking void if Cillian O’Connor is absent?

“Alan’s a good player, he’s a clever player. He’s deceptively big. He’s deceptively quick. He’s lovely skills.

“He has been the real talking point this year in Mayo and we’re delighted. Kind of like James O’Donoghue in Kerry, we’ve been waiting a long time for him to come through and reach his potential.”

8. What is the mood like in Mayo?

“It’s not too bad. We’ve been in eight finals, if you include the drawn match (in 1996), since 1989. There is a nervousness to it because of all these games we’ve lost.

“Everybody’s going crazy looking for tickets because the allocation has got smaller than last year with the minors in it.

“The supporters would be nervous, I would be nervous. But the most important thing is what’s coming out of the camp and the vibe seems to be good.”

imageMayo fans Jack Rowland and Shane Hegarty from Castlebar before the semi-final against Tyrone
Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

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