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Another date with destiny for Horan’s heroes

Comment & Opinion

WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT  Mayo will be looking to win the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time in 69 years in this Saturday's All-Ireland final against Dublin, who are looking to win the cup for the sixth year in a row. Pic: Sportsfile

Magical Mayo journey ends on Saturday in Croke Park

BACK in late summer, the GAA released confirmation that they intended to push ahead with the 2020 championship despite the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. That prompted a running joke on the floor of The Mayo News office that it would be some challenge to be bringing out an All-Ireland final preview supplement the week before Christmas.
We said it jokingly, as we knew it would take a serious effort from the 2020 squad to negotiate a very tricky passage through Connacht and a semi-final with the winners of the Munster championship. But deep down we knew that this hugely talented bunch could well go on another run that would set up another titanic struggle with a wonderful Dublin team on December 19.
And so it has come to pass. After seven weeks of exhilarating action, manager James Horan will lead out the green and red  on the hallowed turf of Croke Park for another date with destiny at 5pm on Saturday evening.
Previewing an All-Ireland final in our second-last edition before Christmas has indeed been a challenge for everyone involved with The Mayo News, but, as has been the case during this whole pandemic, we are honoured to be working hard every week and bringing the people of Mayo a newspaper they too can be proud of.
Our preview supplement is jammed packed with top-quality copy, headed up by our Sports Editor Mike Finnerty and staff members Edwin McGreal and Ger Flanagan. Our cover is another superb effort from cartoonist Jen Murphy. Inside we have every angle of the 2020 final covered, with contributions from our legendary columnist Sean Rice; analyst Billy Joe Padden and a host of others including Anne-Marie Flynn, Colin Sheridan, Rob Murphy, John Gunnigan, Liam Horan and Daniel Carey, to name but a few.
It’s no exaggeration to say it has been difficult to put into words how different the 2020 final is going to be for everyone. We can all remember only too well the welter of excitement that normally takes a grip of this county in the week before a normal All-Ireland.
Most recently, hope sprang eternal ahead of the 2016 and 2017 finals, when then manager Stephen Rochford came oh so close to dethroning the mighty Dubs in finals that will truly be never forgotten.
Most of us too will still remember vividly the heartbreaking defeat in 2013 to the Dubs, and to Donegal in 2012, both under the stewardship of current manager Horan, teams that had players that are still the backbone of the current side.
So whatever the result on Saturday, we truly must stand back and herald the monumental effort this group of players has put in for the Mayo cause over the last decade.
Dublin have been rightly described as probably the best team ever to play the game of Gaelic football, but they have been pushed to the pin of their collar by these Mayo players on every occasion they have met. Indeed, former Dublin manager Pat Gilroy went as far as to say recently on The Sunday Game that this Mayo team could well be the second-best team ever to play the game, such is the standard they have consistently performed too.
The simplistic and withering analysis will say success can only be defined by the number of Celtic crosses you have in your back pocket, and that ultimately cannot be denied.
But sport, and the GAA in particular, is about much, much more than that. And that has never, ever been more to the fore than during this Covid-19 pandemic.
Local GAA clubs and other sporting clubs have played a pivotal role in making sure all communities had everything they needed to try and meet this battle head on, and that sense of camaraderie and togetherness is something we can treasure and keep alive once Covid-19 is a thing of the past.
We know Mayo face a huge challenge on Saturday. Waterford found out on Sunday in the All-Ireland hurling that there is little room for sentimentality as a superb Limerick team claimed the 2020 title. Judging by the bookies’ prices, Mayo face an even stiffer task than Waterford did. Dublin have looked imperious thus far in the 2020 championship, but Mayo have to focus on the positives.
Dublin don’t have Jim Gavin on the sidelines this time, they don’t have the likes of Diarmuid Connolly or Jack McCaffrey on the pitch – and maybe, most significantly, they don’t have Hill 16 and that raucous noise to drive them on.
Mayo are not going to Dublin to make up the numbers on Saturday, they never have, so let’s get behind them fully over the next few days and send them up the N5 full of confidence and swagger. All at The Mayo News wish James Horan, his backroom team, and all of his players the very best of luck on Saturday.