With the All-Ireland final fast approaching, Dublin and Mayo go to battle once more with the stakes as high as ever.
Mayo go into the final having marched through the qualifiers, downing a strong Tyrone team and doing enough to repel a young Tipperary side, to reach their third final in five years – in what is only Stephen Rochford’s first year as manager.
Jim Gavin’s side captured their eleventh Leinster title in twelve years before battling their way to victory over Donegal and emerging victorious from a classic against old rivals Kerry to set up their sixth meeting with Mayo in ten years.
Here are four talking points ahead of the game.
Many believe that Stephen Cluxton’s kickouts are a remarkable asset to Dublin but I’m not convinced. Yes, a very high percentage reach sky blue shirts but it’s that tiny percentage that haven’t found its target that have done the most damage to Dublin in the last two years.
Mayo pushed up on his kickouts in the All-Ireland semi final last year and Kerry at the same stage this year, and both reaped the rewards. One Cluxton mistake turned into two as he descended into meltdown for a period of several minutes, the shockwaves sending the rest of the Dublin team into a similar panic.
It will be very interesting to see how Mayo go about dealing with Cluxton in the final.
It’s no secret that Dublin are practically on the same level as professionals when it comes to fitness, a testament to the dedication of that group of players and, of course, the resources available to them. Conditioning is perhaps Dublin’s most underrated asset.
How many times have you seen Dublin simply pull away in the last ten or fifteen minutes of a close game? It’s a regular occurrence. Mayo are also a well-conditioned side, don’t get me wrong, but it still remains to be seen if they can match the intensity that Dublin bring for a full 70 minutes.
Connolly needs little by way of an introduction, even his point off (supposedly) his weaker foot in the dying moments of a one-point game against Kerry last month was something to behold. He is arguably the most skilful footballer in the country right now.
How are Mayo going to stop him? Kerry afforded him a lot of space and suffered the consequences as the Vincent’s man scored three from play and pulled the strings for the All-Ireland champions. Keegan? Higgins? Boyle? It’s hard to know what exactly Rochford is planning.
Even if Connolly was kept quiet, Mayo have still got the likes of Bernard Brogan, Dean Rock, Ciaran Kilkenny and Paul Flynn to deal with!
An Aerial Battle?
Mayo have a choice on Sunday. They can utilise powerhouse Aidan O’Shea and other aerial threats such as Barry Moran, Conor O’Shea and Diarmuid O’Connor to launch an attack on the Dublin full-back line without Rory O’Carroll and hope it pays dividends.
Another option is to try and exploit space in the corners with Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran excellent finishers that can damage Dublin from almost anywhere inside the 45 line, while creating space inside for their half forwards to run into is also an option.
We already know that Dublin are more likely to opt for the second option with every one of the potential six forwards more than capable. If all else fails, Eoghan O’Gara. The Templeogue man has already made a big impact in the semi final and his physical presence offers Dublin a plan B if things aren’t going according to plan.
Gavin Quinn, Pundit Arena