If Clive Woodward was a GAA coach he would love this.
Straight knock out.
Winner takes all.
We all love it. It is especially true when the elite sides meet. Mayo and Donegal are well versed in the routine of Croke Park and big games. Both sides would have planned to be peaking for this weekend. The way folk talked about Donegal almost two months ago is how they are talking about Mayo now. Maybe it just highlights the lopsided routes both sides have taken to get here.
But it also means our perception of Mayo can change. They look like a side that has everything to go on and win an All-Ireland. They are in the fifth year of their development and fifth year of competing with the elite and beating the elite.
Because Mayo have not won an All Ireland, the perception is that they are still on an upward curve. So far however, it’s been a case of always the bridesmaid, never the bride with All-Ireland success.
They are at the top in everything they do other than the actual experience of winning an All-Ireland. This squad actually has the potential, if they could break the glass ceiling, to win multiple All-Irelands, but for now one would do.
Mayo face a considerable challenge in Donegal. A team seen as a dying wasp. Aging. Certainly on the decline. Too many miles on the clock. A renowned defence that is leaking and looking less tigerish.
Hit the Beaches
When Woodward’s England rugby team came under pressure in the 2003 World Cup games “Hit the Beaches” was the big call from their leaders. Essentially stolen from the images of soldiers on D-Day, it meant on a rugby pitch to work and work and work.
Weather the storm. A seige mentality of staying alive, stay in the contest. It’s not a tactical call. A call to arms rather.
With the level of pace and athleticism in the middle, Donegal may have to do something similar to hang onto Mayo. Huge energy and a newfound ruthlessness are qualities in Mayo that Donegal must overcome. With Donegal having a tendency to go for long periods without scoring, hitting the beaches will be huge in this period. If Donegal can come out of their lean scoring period unbowed they have a great chance. Expect Murphy to drift from no.14.
Huge weight and expectation is given to the possible battle of Aidan O’Shea and Neil McGee. However, there is a possibility that Mayo will see a different area to use the 6 foot 5 inch talisman.
Holmes and Connelly should be looking at who will be at no.6 for Donegal. If it is Lacey, is he fully fit? Is he there to be exposed by O’Shea’s power and physicality if not 100%?
Maybe Lacey won’t be there. In Ulster, Donegal have tended to play Murphy around the middle because of the claustrophobic defences that surround the no.14 position. Rory Gallagher even alluded to this in the aftermath of the Galway game. Perhaps it’s something Mayo need to consider. Otherwise Donegal will have a detailed and specific plan for Neil McGee not being left 1v1 with O’Shea.
Michael Murphy will play full forward for periods in this game. What plan will Mayo have to nullify this threa? Will it be Vaughan this time?
Mayo pushed up on Sligo sweepers in Hyde Park. However, with Murphy at 14 don’t be surprised to see Keith Higgins or O’Boyle let Mark McHugh drop in as sweeper and they cover in front of Murphy. If Holmes and Connelly are quality coaches they will have a plan to deal with his physicality.
Defensively Mayo are often criticised as being naive and not as organised as the other top sides. Expect something new this weekend. They didnt need to show their hand on their defensive plan yet. Otherwise what have they brought that is new?
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When Lee Keegan plays well, Mayo play well. A huge leader and driver from the back for this team, Donegal need to negate his influence.
Is there an argument to push Ryan McHugh on him and put him on the back foot, forcing him to defend? Could Hugh McFadden hold the left side of midfield and be designated to put the first tackles in? He has the physicality and work rate to do so. Somehow Donegal must hammer the hammer; negate the Mayo talismen.
The match ups will be massive. Traditionally it has been:
E.McGee v O’Connor
Lacey V Dillon
McGrath v Moran
There might be a change this time however and O’Shea’s height and power may force the shift around (plus form).
N.McGee v A.O’Se
McGrath v Moran
McGlynn v O’Connor
If O’Shea goes to 14, and the Donegal plan works around him being placed there, expect them to be very close. Mayo are favourites, but if Donegal can hit the beaches and use the subs well they could certainly provide a mild shock.
If they do not, they are in serious trouble. Donegal will bring the stubborn doggedness of a champion.
Prediction: The dying wasp to win with (maybe) its last sting…..