Tuesday 16 January 2018

Dublin to join giants of Game

History looms for one of our finalists ... Mayo are one of the few who can rattle holders, but Blues have the form and forwards to deliver

Mayo’s Diarmuid O’Connor (l) and Aidan O’Shea tussle with Tyrone’s Ronan McNabb and Cathal McCarron (r) during the quarter-final.. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Mayo’s Diarmuid O’Connor (l) and Aidan O’Shea tussle with Tyrone’s Ronan McNabb and Cathal McCarron (r) during the quarter-final.. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Kevin McManamon, right, and Cian O’Sullivan of Dublin celebrate after the All-Ireland SFC semi-final game between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The time for talking has stopped, September's tantalising moment has arrived and history - in one guise or another - is almost upon us.

For Dublin, the chance to join their Seventies forebears in the pantheon of great All-Ireland champions who have proven their pre-eminence, back-to-back.

For Mayo, a prize even greater yet more elusive: the end of that teasing, tormenting, 65-year journey in the All-Ireland desert.

So, who's it going to be?


More often than not, when you get to this ultimate juncture, predicting an All-Ireland winner is shrouded in doubt because you have two in-form teams who have yet to clash in direct combat that summer.

They may have met in the league, but can you trust that? They mightn't even have much recent championship 'history'.

Dublin/Mayo is different. To say this is a collision of two in-form teams is a dubious premise: Jim Gavin's Dublin are the most ultra-consistent team in the country, maybe even in the history of this new millennium, and with the 27-match unbeaten run to prove it.

Mayo's 2016 graph zigzags madly in comparison. They were slow out of the league blocks and just about preserved their top-flight status. They lost to Galway in a fashion that bordered on alarming.


Since then, the welcome rediscovery of that winning habit has been countered by a realisation that in-game inconsistency has blighted virtually every performance - the periods of brilliance against Fermanagh, Kildare, Westmeath and Tipperary were eclipsed by even longer spells of distraction.

The win over Tyrone was different, revealing the return to form of several team leaders coupled with an intensity, and focus, that had only been seen in flashes beforehand.

But then they reverted to 2016 type against Tipp. A repeat of that display will be punished, cruelly, systematically, by the holders ...

If you apply the logic of recent form, then, it must be Dublin. So why is there a perception afoot - reflected in the conflicting comments of countless pundits who are tipping Dublin while simultaneously talking up Mayo's shock potential - that tomorrow's final is no done deal?

There is some method to this apparent madness. Maybe Mayo found the perfect way to win a semi-final, leaving copious scope for improvement, while it's conceivable that Dublin expended too much emotional energy in their epic comeback against Kerry.

Then you have the history of these contests: Mayo nearly always perform when that Sky Blue jersey looms into championship view. Can you say the same of Mayo against Kerry?

The counter-argument is that, in eight previous attempts, Mayo have never beaten Dublin in the Jim Gavin era. He has won four and drawn one of their league meetings; he reigned in the 2013 All-Ireland final and last year's semi-final replay. The memory of 2012, when Mayo steamrolled Dublin in Castlebar and won a typically madcap semi-final, is fading.

Still, as last summer's saga underlined, Mayo have the capacity to push Dublin into scary corners. They are also one of a very select crew with the athleticism, physicality, tackling prowess and maybe even the manic bloody-mindedness to threaten their ascent into two-in-a-row heaven.

But to do that, they must summon a performance unlike anything we have yet seen in 2016. Their goal concession rate this summer (just three in seven games) augurs positively against rivals who no longer raise green flags (five in five) with the frequency of old.

Stephen Rochford and his brains-trust must also devise a nuanced, and possibly multi-layered, game-plan that catches Gavin off-guard; and one that, crucially, knocks Stephen Cluxton out of his kickout comfort zone ... as Kerry managed in those ten fraught minutes before half-time.

In a once-off game, all of the above could happen. But we don't think it will, for long enough to dethrone the Dubs, and here's why ...

Dublin have grown accustomed to facing defensive walls and breaking them down through the patient recycling of possession and trust in their long-range shooters.

They have averaged almost 1-20 this summer; even if Mayo have some standout defensive qualities, it's debatable that they can simultaneously suppress Kevin McManamon, Dean Rock (two players in the form of their respective lives), Diarmuid Connolly and Bernard Brogan. Moreover, even if they hold two or more of them, what happens when the next Blue wave (Paul Mannion, Paddy Andrews, Eoghan O'Gara) is unleashed?

Mayo's motivation is off the charts but Dublin want this, almost as much, to copperfasten their iconic status.

A Mayo attack boasting two O'Connors, Aidan O'Shea and the born-again Andy Moran cannot be discounted ... but Dublin have even more firepower, a stronger bench, and a proven track record when the pressure is at its zenith.

And that's where this team is at. The zenith.

ODDS: Dub 4/11 Draw 10/1 Mayo 10/3


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