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There's still no love lost for Dubs and Mayo rivals

Varley: Goal scoring ability was key difference between enemies in '10s

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Dublin’s Rory O’Carroll tries to lift the injured Enda Varley of Mayo in the All-Ireland SFC semi-final in 2012. Photo: Sportsfile

Dublin’s Rory O’Carroll tries to lift the injured Enda Varley of Mayo in the All-Ireland SFC semi-final in 2012. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Dublin’s Philip McMahon exchanges words with Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea after the All-Ireland SFC semi-final replay in 2015. Photo: Sportsfile

Dublin’s Philip McMahon exchanges words with Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea after the All-Ireland SFC semi-final replay in 2015. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Dublin’s Rory O’Carroll tries to lift the injured Enda Varley of Mayo in the All-Ireland SFC semi-final in 2012. Photo: Sportsfile

It's seven-and-a-half years since Enda Varley had his nose broken in an off-the-ball incident in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final, the game that lit the fuse on the Dublin/Mayo rivalry as we know it now.

Paradoxically, it's also the last time Mayo last beat Dublin in a match of any description.

And relations, as Varley observes, have hardly mellowed between the teams since then.

There was the 2013 All-Ireland final, featuring claim and counter-claim of cynicism.

Then, in 2015, Aidan O'Shea claimed he'd been head-butted after a drawn All-Ireland semi-final that set a new high watermark for naked physicality between the teams.

We had Diarmuid Connolly v Lee Keegan in '16, Ciarán Kilkenny v Lee Keegan in '17.

And who could - or would want to - forget 'GPS-gate'?

"I know in '15 when Aido went into the full-forward line and Philly was on him, there was a fair bit of argy-bargy then," recalls Varley.

"The rivalry between those two got quite nasty around that time.

Heavy

"I remember Jonny Cooper came in on Diarmuid O'Connor in that game with his studs up.

"And Mayo had a few (bad challenges) themselves. Cillian had a couple.

"There is a bit of bad blood there. It's one of those things. If they get the chance to go in heavy, they tend to.

"If they feel they can get away with it….look, there's no love lost there."

Varley has lived in Dublin for the best part of a decade now.

His inter-county career ended after Pat Holmes and Mike Connelly decided not to retain him before the beginning of 2015 and a year later, he joined St Vincent's.

His form in helping the Marino club to back-to-back Dublin SFC titles in 2016 and '17 prompted demands for a recall.

It never transpired.

But in choosing to live behind enemy lines, Varley has learned first-hand that Dublin supporters aren't the sort to be abstract in their opinions about Mayo players.

His presence at or near the the centre of several flashpoints - and his involvement in James McCarthy's questionable black card in the drawn '16 final - has turned one Mayo player into a sort of pantomime villain for Hill 16.

"They hate Cillian!," Varley laughs.

"Oh Jesus, they hate Cillian. They hate Aido too. But Cillian is number one..."

It is as much testament to Mayo's flintier side as their consistency that they managed to cultivate such enmity with Dublin in the last decade.

The bare figures: fourteen Dublin wins and three draws from 19 meetings between 2010 and 2019, don't suggest a close rivalry.

And yet arguably, the Dublin/Mayo dynamic was football's most compelling of the 2010s.

"From '13 to '17, let's be honest here, it was Dublin, Mayo and Kerry that kept football going," Varley observes.

"Football was in the doldrums. Most of the provincial games were poor.

"But then," he points out, "you'd get the semi-final and you'd have these amazing games between those three teams."

A breakdown of the scoring figures across those 19 League and Championship meetings between Dublin and Mayo reveals something striking.

Despite winning just twice in 19 games, Mayo scored a cumulative 250 points against Dublin in those games.

Dublin clocked just one more - 251.

The cliché about goals winning games is the rivalry's essential finding.

Dublin hit the net 32 times compared to Mayo's 12 goals - slightly more than a goal a game in the difference.

It's not just the number of goals that has been such a boon to Dublin either.

Varley notes how Dublin tend to score in flurries, the sort of power play that can turn a game upside down or in some cases, kill it stone dead.

"Once they get a run on you, it can turn into an avalanche," he says, "It really can.

"I remember in 2015, Mayo were five points up in the 55th minute. And by the 63rd, we were three or four down. That's what Dublin do."

"If it's on, they will go for it. That's the way they're built."

The contrast in goals scored is interesting in the context of the perceived wisdom as to why Mayo were so competitive against Dublin in so many era-defining games.

As Varley points out: "Dublin are used to playing against systems where its zonal defence and possession-based attack. So in their training sessions, they're coached to play against that.

"So when Mayo play then man-on-man because they have the athletes to do that, they nearly find it more difficult."

Clearly though, Mayo's tactical inclination to face the Dublin challenge head-on has left them vulnerable to conceding goals.

In the context of Saturday night's League game in MacHale Park, this may not be entirely relevant.

In 14 Croke Park meetings in the last decade, Dublin and Mayo have scored an average of 2.7 goals per game between them.

In the five played in Castlebar, that drops to 1.2.

Varley predicts "there will definitely be four or five goal chances on Saturday night" but adds "Castlebar is a slower pitch."

"Once you get into Croker, even if you have a 'plus one' at the back, it's still very difficult to not concede goal chances there. It's so open."

Mostly, Dublin's greater ability to score goals comes down to two basic factors: creativity and potency.

"They've had more good forwards. That's basically it," Varley stresses.

"Every year they've have had nine starting quality forwards."

So like last Saturday in Croke Park, there is more at stake on next Saturday than anyone involved would care to admit.

Varley played under James Horan for the entirety of his first stint as manager and says: "I can hear him now, what he'll be saying to the squad.

"He'll tell them that this a great opportunity, with Dublin coming down to Castlebar.

"Yeah, he'll target it. But you can target it all you want. Beating them is another matter..."