GAA patrons in both Galway and Mayo have one thing in common this week: a frantic search for tickets for next Saturday and Sunday’s two sell-out games at Croke Park.
It promises to be a hectic 24 hours of GAA action, with Mayo replaying Dublin for a place in the decider against perennial favourites Kerry, and the Galway hurlers trying to bridge a 27-year gap that stretches back to Conor Hayes' time as team captain in 1988.
In the football, it is well within Mayo’s compass to get a win this Saturday. I would give them a terrific chance of doing so. Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly should have learnt an awful lot from last weekend’s draw, and with Diarmuid Connolly likely to be suspended Dublin will be without one of their top men.
Donal Vaughan will be a loss for Mayo too, however. Teams can find additional defenders, whereas top scoring forwards are always in short supply, and Connolly on his game is crucial to Jim Gavin's cause.
When the gun was put to Mayo’s head last weekend and they found themselves seven points down, they responded with great gusto driven on by the superb Keith Higgins who I felt was the real launchpad for their come-back. The Mayo team captain was inspirational and drove at the Dublin rearguard with a passion and intensity that was bound to lift his teammates and supporters.
Mayo need to start on Saturday as they finished last Sunday, and target Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs from the get-go. They have a superior midfield to Dublin in the likes of Tom Parsons, Seamie O’ Shea, and Barry Moran, and all three are proficient in the air. Hence they should force the Dublin goalkeeper to kick long and not concede possession as they did so regularly in the drawn game.
That is not easy to do and still maintain a sweeper system. However, if they win primary possession off the Dublin kick-out it would give them a huge advantage and a platform to go on and win the game. You don't need a sweeper when you have the ball.
I would take Mayo to win on Saturday and they seem to have a bit more belief and momentum than Dublin at this stage. One thing I do not like is that Dublin have a significant advantage that the game is on their doorstep once again. Mayo are travelling up on Friday and have a long day to put in on Saturday until 5pm. Hanging around most of Saturday is a real pain and can really eat into your energy levels, especially two weekends in a row.
That said, Mayo are a tremendously experienced outfit at this stage and their players are well used to having to deal with such issues. If they really go at Dublin and vary their game between running at the defence and isolating Aidan O’ Shea on other occasions they will find themselves back in another decider.