Don’t show the white feather

FIRST things I haven’t been able to give as much time to Sunday’s All-Ireland minor final as I would like to because of work constraints. In fact I’ve been very quiet since the Meath defeat due to work pressures. But we’re well into the weekend and the final is within sight.

A DRY RUN HOPEFULLY! Mayo captain Aidan Walsh getting a good feel for the Markham Cup at this week's press session. Hopefully it will repeat on Sunday.

A DRY RUN HOPEFULLY! Mayo captain Aidan Walsh getting a good feel for the Markham Cup at this week's press session. Hopefully it will repeat on Sunday.

The first thing that strikes me about this game is the way the Armagh team is being talked up, even by their own manager. Now I’m the first to criticise cute-hoorism in the GAA. The ‘yerra we’ll turn up’ lines that the Kerry boys come out with are something else (as an aside Tom O’Sullivan outdid himself this week when he said ‘we’ll have to play beyond the best of our abilities to be in with any chance’!) and it really is an Irish thing to talk yourself down.

So a ‘we’re good and we know it’ approach is refreshing. But at minor level? Can you really judge how good a team is at such an unpredictable level. None of these lads will have played in an All-Ireland minor final before. It is a huge occasion and it really can play tricks with the mind. Creating an impression that you are invincible could work havoc with Armagh heads. Some people think they only have to turn up to collect the Markham Cup. Their manager hasn’t helped by describing them as ‘special’ and ‘great’ at various stages. Maybe they might be and good luck to them. But ideal preparation I don’t think it is.

You can be sure Ray Dempsey’s Mayo won’t have swelled heads. Dempsey is the master of ‘yerra’! I think he must have spent a few summers in South Kerry learning from Jack O’Connor! I would have liked to have heard a few interviews with the Mayo minors but Dempsey has imposed a ban on them talking. Healthy? Some might say so. I reckon it’s no harm for their own confidence to expose them to the press. After all by the end of the final they’ll be playing in front of over 70,000 people. If they’re not able for a few questions then they’ll hardly manage that. But that’s only a small aside.

What I really like about the Mayo team under Dempsey is their character and honesty. They don’t know when they’re beaten. They really will plug away. They are not, by any means, the most gifted Mayo minor team we’ve ever had – 91, 99, 04 and 08 were special teams in my opinion – but that doesn’t mean they can’t win on Sunday.

Mick Burke managed a very limited Mayo minor team to our last All-Ireland in 1985. He became famous for the line ‘you can only dance with the girls in the hall’ as a way of expressing how you must make the most of the hand of players you are dealt. He did.

It was great to see an interview with him in this week’s Mayo News and it was worth noting the similarities between his team and the class of 2009. Unfancied both. But what they have is character and a ferocious workrate. The key things he says that made his team stand out were a good goalkeeper, a good freetaker, a good midfielder and a good goalscorer. Sound familiar yet?

Not alone that I think Mayo have a very fine defence and I think this will be the key to them winning on Sunday. People will say Down destroyed Mayo in the first half of the semi-final. I guarantee you they didn’t destroy the defence.

Only wing-back Ciaran Charlton got taken – by a super talent in Caolan Mooney – but all others stood strong. And why did Mayo struggle I hear you ask? We had a rookie in at midfield who struggled for oxygen beside Danny Kirby who was being pushed hard because of the next factor – we had no half-forward line in that  half. We were shapeless at midfield and in the half-forward line as a result.

Raymond Dempsey must take some of the blame for that. But he rectified things with a series of inspired half-time changes. Armagh will be a step-up we’re told. I don’t doubt that. The key is how much of  a step-up? They’ve a serious inside forward line but I’ve been very impressed with the Mayo full-back line of Walsh, Rogers and Gavin all year. None of the trio have done much wrong and Rogers has been particularly impressive – a senior career beckons in my opinion.

We’ve a solid half-back line too. Shane McDermott is a classy centre-back and Crowe and Charlton are capable wing-backs. Charlton is certainly better than he showed against Down.

But how we line out further forward is the key. Andrew Farrell is picked to line out beside Kirby at midfield. Farrell has played in the half-forward line all year and isn’t a huge player in terms of height so a lot of people are assuming he won’t play there and that team captain Aidan Walsh, picked at 14, will start at midfield.

I’m not so sure. I reckon Ray Dempsey could try to play Walsh inside with Cillian O’Connor and Alex Corduff to try to make hay off a small enough Armagh full-back line. It would be a serious gamble, to not play Walsh at midfield considering how we struggled without him there at various stages through the year. If it works it is a master stroke. But we’ll have a small half-forward line so winning ball could be a problem.

I could see either Corduff or Walsh moving out as a third midfielder with O’Connor left in with one of the big men. But it is very hard to assess how Mayo will line out from 8 up.

Armagh will take beating. But I reckon the longer Mayo can stay in the game, the more Armagh might begin to doubt themselves and, at the same time, Mayo will prosper. If we’re within two points of the favourites with ten minutes to go, we’ll win. I firmly believe that is how it will play out. Don’t show the white feather. Maigh Eo abú.

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