Bluffer's guide to the All-Ireland Football Final
By John Harrington
If you’re a casual GAA fan rather than a die-hard then you might feel a little bit out of your depth when the conversation at work this week turns towards Sunday’s All-Ireland Final.
Never fear, we’re here to help the less football-savvy with our 10-point Bluffer’s Guide to the All-Ireland SFC Final.
1: These two have previous
The rivalry between these Dublin and Mayo teams has been the most significant in Gaelic Football during this decade. Sunday’s All-Ireland Final will be their seventh championship meeting in just six years and all previous encounters have been ferociously hard-fought.
Dublin have had the upper hand – they’ve won three, drawn two, and lost just one of the six championship matches they’ve contested with Mayo since 2012.
There’s not much between the teams though. The only two championship matches that Dublin haven’t won in the last two years were last year’s drawn All-Ireland Final with Mayo and the drawn All-Ireland SFC semi-final against Mayo in 2015.
2: Culchies v Jackeens
If social media is an accurate barometer, then the rivalry between Dublin and Mayo supporters is just almost as intense as the one that exists between the players.
It’s probably the ultimate clash of city and country. After all, the term ‘Culchie’ is thought to have originally derived from the Mayo town of Kiltimagh.
Any Dublin supporter calling a Mayo supporter a Culchie on Sunday is likely to be dismissed as a ‘Jackeen’ in return.
It’s thought the term ‘Jackeen’ goes back to the time when Dublin was regarded by those living outside ‘The Pale’ as the most English city in Ireland, and that ‘Jackeen’ is a reference to the Union Jack.
As an aside, Kiltimagh isn't just famous for being the birthplace of Culchies. It's also the birthplace of Dr. Sean Lavin, an outstanding athlete who represented Ireland in two Olympic Games and is credited with inventing the solo run in Gaelic Football.
He first produced it in the 1921 All-Ireland final where Mayo lost to Dublin by 1-9 to 0-2.
3: Mayo can equal a record on Sunday
Mayo will equal a record set by Tyrone in 2005 if they win the Sam Maguire Cup this year having played 10 championship matches.
After beating Sligo and losing to Galway in Connacht they performed a high-wire act through the Qualifiers that saw them beat Derry after extra-time, Clare, Cork after extra-time, Roscommon after a replay, and Kerry after a replay.
It’s a testament to the undying loyalty of the Mayo supporters that they followed their team in such big numbers throughout that odyssey.
4: Dublin bid for three-in-a-row.
Were Dublin to win a third All-Ireland Final in a row on Sunday it would be the fourth time in the county’s history that they’ve achieved the feat.
They also won three Sam Maguire Cups in a row from 1897 to 1899, from 1906 to 1908, and from 1921 to 1923.
Here's a quirky stat for you - when Dublin won their first All-Ireland in 1897 it was a 21-a-side game and they beat Cork by 2-1 to 1-9. In those days a goal outweighed any number of points.
5: Kick-outs will be key.
It’s easy to make the case for Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton not just being the most important player in Jim Gavin’s team, but also the most influential of his generation.
His quickly-taken, laser-guided kick-outs are a huge part of the Dublin game-plan and there’s a good chance they could give his team a vital edge again in Sunday’s All-Ireland Final.
His opposite number, Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke, is arguably the best shot-stopper in the game but his goal-kicking isn’t on the same level as Cluxton’s so Dublin should have the edge when it comes to restarts.
Don’t be surprised to see Dublin push up on the Mayo kick-out at every opportunity to put Clarke under pressure.
Mayo might try to do that themselves, but as Cluxton proved against Tyrone he has the ability to go long with great accuracy too which can expose Mayo defensively if they push too many bodies forward.
6: Bonus Stephen Cluxton statistic to impress your mates with
While we’re on the subject of Stephen Cluxton, let’s take a moment to appreciate not just the Dublin captain’s ability, but his longevity too.
On Sunday he’ll extend his record for the most championship appearances in the history of Gaelic Football to 91, and with Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh now officially retired after making 89 championship appearances, it’s hard to see how Cluxton will be caught any time soon.
7: The Curse of ‘51
Mayo haven’t won the Sam Maguire Cup since 1951 despite competing in 10 All-Ireland Finals since then, including two replays.
The easiest explanation for that losing streak is they simply haven’t been good enough, but those of a more superstitious persuasion will tell you the team was cursed after their 1951 success.
Legend has it that while the Mayo team passed through Foxford on their journey home after the All-Ireland Final they failed to wait quietly for a funeral cortege to pass and were cursed by a local priest who said the county wouldn’t win another All-Ireland Final until all the members of the ’51 team were dead.
The curse is a fable rather than a fact, but it is true that Mayo have had more than their fair share of bad luck in recent years. The two own-goals they conceded against Dublin in last year’s drawn All-Ireland Final and the collision that concussed both Aidan O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry stand out in this regard.
Perhaps Mayo need to think outside the box when it comes to putting this curse to rest. When they won their first All-Ireland in 1936 they spent the day previous playing golf in Lucan. Maybe that's worth a shot again!
8: Andy Moran is forever young
At the relatively ripe age of 33, Andy Moran is arguably enjoying his best championship campaign yet in the Mayo colours.
He’s hit a highly impressive tally of 3-21 from play in their nine matches so far in the championship, and he’s also been one of the team’s most effective play-makers thanks to his ability to win hard ball and use it wisely.
If Mayo are to pull off a shock on Sunday, then there’s a good chance Moran’s fingerprints will be all over the victory.
9: Bench impact
Sunday’s Final is going to be a seriously physical encounter so substitutes will have a big role to play as bodies tire in the second-half.
Dublin look to be better equipped in this regard. In the All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone they had the luxury of holding blue-chip players like Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Flynn, Kevin McManamon, Bernard Brogan, Eoghan O’Gara and Eric Lowndes in reserve.
Paddy Durcan and Conor Loftus impressed for Mayo after their introduction as substitutes in the All-Ireland semi-final replay win over Kerry, but Dublin look to have more potential game-changers on their subs bench.
10: Where will Aidan O’Shea play?
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford really pulled a rabbit out of his hat by using Aidan O’Shea as a make-shift full-back to man-mark Kerry danger-man Kieran Donaghy in the drawn and replayed All-Ireland semi-finals.
O’Shea was particularly impressive in the replayed match and the Mayo attack coped well without him in both games, so it’ll be interesting to see how he’s utilised on Sunday.
He’ll almost certainly be released from his full-back duties to the attack, but will it be as a full-forward, a centre-forward, or perhaps he’ll be given a free role.
O’Shea has been accused in the past, somewhat unfairly, of not consistently delivering on the big stage for Mayo.
If they are to end their long wait for the Sam Maguire Cup on Sunday, then they’ll need the big man at his very best.