It's the clash of the two best teams in Allianz NFL Division 1 in Croke Park on Sunday, as Mayo and Donegal throw-in for the final at 4.00pm.

There seems to be little more than a hair's breadth between them.

Donegal won their encounter earlier in the campaign (with a goal and a flurry of points at the death) and have been impressive all season.

But in the semi-finals Mayo looked a more coherent unit while dispensing with Galway, while Donegal struggled against a weaker Kildare team.

And, when teams are so evenly matched, games are usually turned on something other than its own merits. This game will be decided, it seems, on who copes better with their own injury blight.

Mayo are having a real crisis between the sticks, where David Clarke's back problem is likely to rule him out. But second choice 'keeper Ken O'Malley has a dislocated thumb, meaning that third choice Morvyn Connolly could be drafted in for his first competitive game for Mayo.

Further out the field, James Kilcullen (groin) and Kevin O'Neill
(calf) picked up injuries in the semi-final, while Ciaran McDonald's injury meant he still hasn't made it into a Mayo shirt this year.

And, worse still, the under-21s are in action against Laois in the All-Ireland semi-final, which rules Barry Moran, Mark Ronaldson and Aidan Campbell out of the game.

It all amounts to a headache John O'Mahony doesn't need.

But Donegal have their injuries too. Leon Thompson's injury against Limerick a few weeks back is now known to be ligament damage, so he'll be out for some time. They'll also have concerns about Brendan Devenney, Neil McGee and Paddy McConigley, and it's unlikely they'll name the team before Saturday.

The semi-finals stick in the mind. Mayo were determined, if not exactly fluent, and hauled back a decent Galway side.

Donegal, on the other hand, could have killed Kildare off very early. For the whole game they got yards of space from the Kildare backs (except for the excellent David Lyons), and failed on a number of occasions to kill the Lilywhites off. And, when Kildare began their comeback, it was less Donegal's resilience and more Kildare's profligacy that saw Brian McIver's men through.

If Kildare had not lost Cillian Brennan early on we could easily have been looking at a Mayo vs Kildare final this weekend.

Donegal looked tired after their exertions throughout the season.

If Donegal give Mayo half the space they gave Kildare, the Connacht men will not waste those chances. Even if Donegal are tighter, even with a depleted Mayo, the Connacht side's sheer, bloody-minded determination could take them through against what is an understandably tired Donegal team.

Verdict: Mayo

Barry Whyte