Mayo are most comfortable when utter chaos is unfolding all around them, and that is why their 70-year wait for an All-Ireland title can finally come to an end after enough heartache to fill a series of any soap opera.
It is a novel final pairing, an unconventional decider between two teams who are tactically and positionally versatile; James Horan’s charges are perfectly set up to expect the unexpected. Something Kerry couldn’t cope with in the second semi-final against Tyrone.
This is Mayo’s fourth time to reach the decider since 2016, but on each of the last three occasions, they have faced a Dublin outfit who were physically, mentally and tactically superior. That is certainly not the case this time around, and I can’t help thinking Tyrone is just the sort of side that will bring out the best in them.
Tyrone had nine different scorers against Kerry, including their goalkeeper and four of their six starting defenders. At various stages of that shock semi-final success over the Kingdom, Padraig Hamsey, Ronan McNamee, Frank Burns, Peter Harte, Michael McKernan and Conor Meyler found themselves at the end of attacks, and that stumped Kerry.
The big difference this time is that Mayo are nothing like Kerry. I have little doubt that if Tyrone played a traditional style 15 on 15 with players holding their starting positions, it would be Peter Keane who would be preparing for an All-Ireland final rather than Fergal Logan and Brian Dooher.
Like Tyrone, Mayo needed extra time to book their place in the final, and you couldn’t fail to be impressed with the tenacity they showed in dismantling the Dubs.
Lee Keegan looked as good as ever, and they were able to cope with the absence of arguably their best defender in Oisin Mullen. Indeed, they have been coping all year without their best attacker in Cillian O’Connor – the top-scorer in the history of Mayo football.
Tommy Conroy and Ryan O’Donoghue have come of age and, if Horan can get a 70-minute shift out of Aidan O’Shea, either at midfield or centre-forward, Sam Maguire could be Mayo’s to take home.
Mayo deserve to be a shade of odds-on, and don’t be afraid to be greedy and back them to defy a 1.5-point handicap at
Expect Early Fireworks
Punters should expect the first half to be the highest-scoring half.
In the last six years, there have been eight All-Ireland finals, including replays, and five of them have seen the most scores in the opening period. Only twice has there been more scores after half-time. The other was a draw.
When it gets to the closing stages of an All-Ireland final, teams try to hold onto what they have, and nerves enter the fray. In last year’s All-Ireland final between Dublin and Mayo, 22 of the 25 points arrived in the first half. Expect something similar to happen here.
*All odds correct at time of writing