Lonesharkoy previews the All-Ireland Under 20 final between Kildare and Mayo.
This is the type of final pairing that both of these teams need – neither county has a great record of turning talented footballers into silverware, but there will be no fear factor for either group in Croke Park tomorrow. Even so, an All-Ireland final can take on a life of its own, so there is a fair amount of volatility in terms of what could happen here. We can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that the game in Ballybofey will be decided by four points or less – here it could be tight, or either team could win by 11.
If we strip away the psychological factors however, Kildare should be capable of winning this well. Kerry were the long odds on favourites to win this All Ireland until Seán O’Shea and David Clifford were stripped away from the panel to play senior. One suspects that Kildare could have done the same with Jimmy Hyland but they chose not to – and that was the main reason why Kildare won the All-Ireland semi-final in the Gaelic Grounds between the two counties. Yet even allowing for Kerry’s absent stars, what Kildare have done to get this far is a world apart from what Mayo have had to do. Even without Clifford and O’Shea, Kerry were incredibly strong. Kildare also proved themselves to be comfortably better than Dublin in the Leinster final, while Mayo’s run through Connacht involved a facile win over Leitrim and a final victory over a middling Roscommon side that was hit with injuries following their shock win over a highly-fancied Galway side in Tuam.
Mayo have talent – Oisín Mullin is a very decent centre back, Evan O’Brien will cause problems for Kildare at midfield, Ross Egan and Tommy Conroy are decent scorers and Paul Lambert is the team’s real gem at wing back, a class act that will be a key man at senior level before long. But this Kildare team is truly superb, with scoring threats everywhere. They only need to win by a point tomorrow, but they are capable of so much more – and rather than go high stakes in a volatile game, we’re going to go for big odds instead.