Kerry stumbled against Cork in the Munster decider, recovered to defeat Armagh and then exacted a measure of revenge over Cork to reach their destination. Dublin also looked to be on course for an eagerly anticipated match-up when they led Mayo be seven points during the second half of their semi-final.
But if the post mortem hasn’t yet reached a conclusion as to whether Dublin lost their nerve or whether the Connacht champions were simply too irresistible in the end, there has been no one claiming that Mayo don’t deserve their place at Croke Park.
In fact, Mayo were so confident and clinical in the closing stages of the dramatic victory over the Dubs, that they have been transformed in many minds from also-rans into likely champions. The Westerners haven’t exactly come from nowhere, buy when they drew with Laois in the quarter-final, not too many people were predicting that the Sam Maguire Cup could yet be heading across the Shannon.
If Mayo trail Kerry in terms of tradition — no All Ireland title since 1951 while the Kingdom are aiming for a 34th success — they have closed the gap in the past month or so in terms of pedigree. The doubters have suggested that in beating Dublin, Mayo have already given their one optimum performance of the season, and that to expect a repeat on Sunday would be pure fantasy.
But under the stewardship of Derryman Mickey Moran and his assistant John Morrison, Mayo have already shown the self-belief necessary to win an All Ireland. With leaders like James Nallen and substitute David Brady, with attackers of the caliber of Alan Dillon and the rejuvenated Conor Mortimer, and with the enigmatic talent that is Ciaran McDonald, a long-overdue Mayo triumph would certainly be no shock.
If, as ever, the collective effort will far outweigh one player’s contribution, much will depend on how McDonald performs, or indeed, on how Kerry allow him to perform. A highly perceptive passer, who is far stronger than his relatively slender frame suggests, McDonald doesn’t just make Mayo tick with his intelligent distribution, he is likely to score points from anywhere on the pitch.
He has been criticized earlier in the summer for lying too deep, and for not getting into attacking positions, but his roving role will certainly make it harder for Kerry to snuff out the considerable threat he represents. In short, if McDonald plays well, then Mayo will play well.
Similarly, Kerry have talent and presence throughout the field in Seamus Moynihan, Darragh O Se, Mike Frank Russell and Colm Cooper, but their fortunes could depend to a great extent on the impact Kieran Donaghy is able to leave on the contest.
Manager Jack O’Connor and the Kerry supporters might owe Cork a debt of gratitude, because it was after the defeat in the Munster final that Donaghy was installed at full-forward. Kerry have reaped the rewards of the revamp, with the 6’5″ talisman, who is also a talented basketball player, creating havoc for opposing defenses on the edge of the square.
Donaghy has already developed into the ideal target man sparking off comparisons with Eoin Liston who was such a key forward in Kerry’s great teams of the 1970s and ’80s. Mayo’s strategy in dealing with his height, physique and dexterity is bound to have a profound bearing on the outcome.
“We’re playing what we’re playing,” says Moran, “I can’t control what Jack O’Connor does. It could be a high ball into Kieran Donaghy, or a diagonal ball across the field to the two corner men. We’re training to meet any eventuality.”
If Donaghy causes problem early in the game, it could be that Ronan McGarrity – another fine basketball exponent who played for several seasons at St Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. – will be moved from midfield to do a man-marking job, or that the vastly experienced David Brady might be brought in off the bench.
In the same way that if Kerry fail to close down the threat of McDonald, Mayo will have to have a plan, or plans, to cope with Donaghy if they are make up for the disappointments of the past 55 years.
The likelihood that Mayo will find it hard to replicate the attacking form of their win over Dublin could count against them. In O Se and Moynihan, Kerry have proven leaders who have coped in crisis situations, while Dublin were directionless once Mayo launched their comeback in the semi-final.
The heart says Mayo have done enough in recent years to deserve success, but the head says Kerry will edge the verdict.
There have been an increasing number of examples of player power within the GAA in recent years, and no more so than last weekend when the Galway senior hurlers demanded that Ger Loughnane be appointed as their new manager.
In the wake of Conor Hayes’s decision to stand down, there were suggestions that Mattie Murphy and Sean Silke might be interested in applying for the job, but as far as the players are concerned, there should only be one candidate.
“Ger Loughnane, as far as we are concerned, is the outstanding candidate. He’s the one we want; he has our total support,” said the statement which it is believed was worded by several high-profile Galway hurlers including Eugene Cloonan and Kevin Broderick.
“For many of us, Ger is our last hope of winning an All Ireland … and he is the right appointment for Galway hurling,” the statement continued. “We’re hoping that everybody will realize this. Ger is one of the sharpest coaches the game has ever seen, and the squad has every faith in him.
“We would like to see his appointment going through smoothly, and hopefully that will be the case in the next couple of weeks.”
Although the Galway County Board has yet to ratify Hayes’s successor, it appears they have been backed into a corner by the players’ insistence on Loughnane, and while many traditionalists could see this as a case of the tail wagging the dog, it is difficult to see his appointment being blocked.
So, soon enough there should be an announcement of Loughnane’s return to inter-county management. After single-handedly leading Clare out of the wasteland with All Ireland titles in 1995 and ’97, Loughnane quit in 2001 and since then he has honed his talents as a hard-hitting media pundit.
If he does get the job, it is widely expected that Loughnane will take his old backroom team from Clare of Tony Considine, trainer Louis Mulqueen, physiotherapist Colum Flynn and sports injury specialist Ger Hartmann, with him to Galway.
All that remains is for the county board to accede to the players’ demands, however, if they delay, or if there happens to be competition for the post, there could be a further twist to this story.
But if the way is cleared for Loughnane, then hurling, and probably Galway too, will be the richer for his return.
Young Wie thrown
in golf’s deep end
You might have missed it, but last week, Michelle Wie was playing for the first time in a men’s event on the European Tour. You may have also missed the news that she failed to make the cut at the European Masters in Switzerland.
There was less hooplah than expected on this side of the Atlantic as well, with Thomas Bjorn’s tirade against Ryder Cup captain Ian Woosnam after he had not been given a wild card pick dominating the headlines.
And in case you don’t know, or you’ve forgotten, Wie is the 16-year-old prodigy from Hawaii who has already made a small fortune in endorsements, and who wants to play in both the Masters and the Ryder Cup, which as you do know are currently exclusive to male golfers.
Anyway, Wie received an invite to tee it up against Sergio Garcia and many of Europe’s finest in Switzerland because the tournament is sponsored by one of her backers, Omega. She came, she saw and she finished dead last of the 152 players.
The teenager appeared to be upset when she added a second round 79 to her first round 78 for a total which left her 22 shots adrift of the lead, and 14 outside the cut mark. Said European Tour executive director George O’Grady: “Some things are worth trying once, but we will need to take time to evaluate this.”
On the plus side, the attendance was up 40 per cent, and because of Wie’s participation, there was an increased media interest. But at what cost to the kid?
Memo to Wie’s parents: Stop this charade. Allow your daughter to learn the game, and concentrate on ladies’ events.
2006 All Ireland Football Final
Kerry vs. Mayo
3:30 p.m. (GMT)