This weekend’s All-Ireland Senior Football final will be historic regardless of the victor, seeing the Sam Maguire Cup leave the capital for the first time since 2014, but the question is whether it will be venturing to the wild west, or across the Border for the next 12 months?
Last time out
Mayo have been hammering at the door of an All-Ireland title for years now, becoming the greatest victims of Dublin’s successive run.
Runners-up on five occasions in the last decade, Mayo came unbearably close in 2013, 2016 and 2017, losing out to the Dubs on each occasion, with the 2016 title decided after a replay.
Now a thing of legend, Mayo’s last All-Ireland title came in 1951 – so long ago that if Sam Maguire is heading that way, he’ll certainly need a map.
Tyrone’s last success lives in much more recent history, 13 years ago, but they too have felt the sting of Jim Gavin’s machine. Their most recent trip to Croke Park on All-Ireland day was back in 2018, a game which ended 2-17 to 1-14, resulting in Dublin’s fourth successive title.
Road to Croker
Neither county has had a flawless performance to this point, but both have showed equal tenacity to earn their place in the final.
Although playing down in Division Two, Mayo got 2021 off to a winning start, comfortably taking the top spot in the northern group before securing their promotion into the top-flight.
In the provincial championships, Tyrone were put to the pin of their collar by Monaghan in the Ulster final at the end of July, escaping one point to the good, while Mayo made lighter work of Galway, taking a 2-14 to 2-8 victory in the Connacht final.
Mayo faced old foes Dublin in their semi-final, putting in a momentous comeback in the second half to send the game to extra time. Making up for years of heartbreak, James Horan's men took a 0-17 to 0-14 win in the end, earning another attempt at breaking the curse.
Not to be outdone in the dramatics, Tyrone's route from semi-final to final was nothing short of a roller-coaster following an outbreak of Covid-19 among the squad.
The ordeal saw the August 15th fixture pushed back by just six days following the news of Tyrone's positive cases, before the county later withdrew due to player welfare concerns arising from the squad not having adequate time to recover and train before the rescheduled match.
Faced with the prospect of Kerry walking into an All-Ireland final unopposed, common sense eventually prevailed and a further extension of one week was granted, with the match finally played on August 28th.
Similar to the Mayo-Dublin game, a second half stunner by Tyrone led to extra time, when they eventually bested the Kingdom, 3-14 to 0-22.
Where's the smart money?
Rolling back the clock, a Mayo-Tyrone final was something very few, if any, would have predicted, so it stands to reason that pundits are having a difficult time in calling it.
Mayo's Andy Moran said Saturday's clash is likely the most difficult game to predict that he's ever seen, but added his gut is ultimately telling him to back his countymen.
On Sky Sports' Inside The Game, Kerry's Kieran Donaghy said he "hates sitting on the fence" but admitted he believes a draw may be on the cards, a view shared by Tyrone's Peter Canavan.
Who will lift the Sam Maguire Cup this year? 🏆
Only 2 days to go until @MayoGAA and @TyroneGAALive battle it out in the #GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final at @CrokePark! #GAABelong #BestSeatInTheHouse pic.twitter.com/Tee4ptr7kK
— The GAA (@officialgaa) September 9, 2021
Darragh Ó Sé has no such qualms for picking a victor however, writing in The Irish Times that Mayo may have the upper hand.
Despite "two squads with no All-Ireland medal between them", Ó Sé says: "The likes of Lee Keegan, Paddy Durcan and Aidan O’Shea have been through more big days than most, so maybe Mayo have an edge on that score. But it’s a small one."
"When it comes right down to it, Mayo have beaten better teams than Tyrone have over the past few seasons," the Kerryman adds.
The All-Ireland Senior Football Final between Mayo and Tyrone throws in at Croke Park on Saturday, September 11th at 5pm, with live coverage on RTÉ Two, Sky Sports and GAAGO (for those outside of Ireland).