Mayo look to take the Hill for a crack at the Kingdom

GAA: All Ireland SFC Semi Final

Keith Higgins and Bernard Brogan will renew rivalries on Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile

Keith Higgins and Bernard Brogan will renew rivalries on Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile

Traditionally, once the starting 15 was announced all talk would move towards the various match-ups that would occur on the field. But even with Mayo announcing their starting 15 on Wednesday night for Sunday's big game, most of the talk was shifted towards "is that how they will actually line out". Since Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly threw the curve ball of dropping Barry Moran into the starting 15 for Mayo's win over Donegal in the quarter final win over the Ulster men, the chances of their doing the same for Dublin became a more real possability.

The starting 15 that was named on Wednesday night shows just one change from the side that took to the field to take on Rory Gallagher's side three weeks ago, with Chris Barrett replacing Tom Cunniffe who was forced out of that game injured. The one thing that we more or less take for certain is that David Clarke has got over the injury that saw him leave the last eight clash at half time, but there is one exception to the new rules brought in by the GAA in relation to having to submit your 26 players the Thursday before a game with no changes allowed after that, and that is in the position of goalkeeper where a change can be made from the 26 submitted in the days before the game.

As to what will happen when the game throws in, we will just have to wait and see. This Sunday will be the fourth meeting of these sides in championship action in 10 years, with Mayo having two wins in their back pocket, the 2006 and 2012 semi-finals, with Clarke the only Mayo starter to remain in the starting 15 again for Sunday. Alan Dillon who will surely take his place on the bench on Sunday also started that day, with both Barry Moran and Andy Moran getting game time as subs in that contest, with Moran scoring the vital goal in front of Hill 16. The most recent meeting of the sides was the 2013 final of course, which was won by Dublin. There are 10 survivors from Mayo's starting 15 that day to get the nod in the team selected this week for Sunday's clash, with Robbie Hennelly, Tom Cunniffe, Alan Dillion, Alan Freeman, and Andy Moran the ones not to make the cut. That game was also notable for the fact that Keith Higgins was deployed as a line breaking half-forward before an injury to Cunniffe forced a reshuffle and the Ballyhaunis man had to go back into the full back line.

Back in March, Dublin came to MacHale Park in the league and put a world of hurt on Mayo, with the metropolitans running out 2-18 to 0-10 winners on the night. From the Mayo team that started that evening there are nine survivors for Sunday's meeting, but even then the positions have changed a good bit. Donal Vaughan started that evening in the middle of the park, but he is now firmly ensconced back in the defensive unit, while Aidan O'Shea started on the attacking 40' but since the turn of summer has become one of the most devastating full forwards in the game.

The last two championship meetings between Mayo and Dublin have been kind of shoot outs with each team trying to outdo the other on the scoreboard. But with Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes in charge of the side and their trusty leiutenent Mícheal Collins also on board as a selector, they have a serious defensive pedigree on the line and will know that shutting down the opposition is as important as trying to go toe to toe and outscoring them.

Mayo have scored 9-53 over their three championship games so far this year, with Cillian O'Connor, who has yet to reach top form this year, accounting for 1-19 of that total, with only 1-5 of it coming from play. Aidan O'Shea has scored 4-5 from the edge of the square. Lee Keegan is the next in line with 2-2 to his name, and Jason Doherty comes in with six points from the three games after that. Another 12 Mayo men have got on the scoreboard in the championship this year, but in much smaller returns. Seamus O'Shea has 1-1 and Diarmuid O'Connor 0-4, both Andy Moran and Mark Ronaldson have scored three points, while Kevin McLoughlin and Donal Vauaghan have chipped in with two points apiece, Chris Barrett, Patrick Durcan, Alan Dillon, Keith Higgins, Alan Freeman, and Barry Moran have each kicked one point over the course of the last 210 minutes of championship football. If Mayo are going to win on Sunday, going on the past few outings, it is imperative that both Aidan O'Shea and Cillian O'Connor bring their shooting boots with them. The next highest scoring forward Mayo have is Doherty, who is putting the ball over the bar on average twice a game, and Mayo will need to be getting better returns from their starting six forwards. Comparing Mayo to Dublin, Mayo are averaging just under 27 points a game, while Dublin are racking up just shy of 30 points per contest (both of those figures are skewed with both sides having some very lopsided provincial championship games, Mayo having 26 points to spare over Sligo, and Dublin with a 27 point win over Longford and 19 over Kildare in Leinster ).

In the build up to the game, the Mayo players and management commented that Dublin could hit you from anywhere, so there will be extra pressure on Mayo's wing fowards to try to nullify the attacking threat posed by the likes of Jack McCaffrey and James McCarthy. Both Diarmuid O'Connor and Kevin McLoughlin will be expected to put in serious shifts over the 70 minutes to curb Dublin's attacking threat from the back. Further back, Lee Keegan who has returned to his excellent form in recent months, will probably be given the task of shackling Diarmuid Connelly, a challenge that the Westport man will be relishing and well up for. Stopping Connelly will probably limit the influence that Keegan has, and with him being Mayo's third top scorer in the championship this year, someone else will have to step up to the plate. Colm Boyle will have his hands full when he more than likely picks up Paul Flynn, a footballer who has won four All Stars in a row, showing his class, while Keith Higgins will be looking to boost his reputation as the best man marker in the game, when he faces off against the deadly Bernard Brogan. Keeping it tight at the back is something Mayo must do, because the Dublin attack is capable of running in four goals in a few minutes on any side.

In the middle of the park, Mayo look to traditionally have the advantage with both Seamus O'Shea and Tom Parsons being a better natural midfield pairing than what Dublin has to offer, but Dublin do not play that way, especially on their own kick-outs. Stephen Cluxton will look to run the Mayo midfield ragged, by arrowing balls to the wings and dragging both Parsons and O'Shea from pillar to post. What Mayo do on their own will be another intriguing battle, Clarke got a lot of joy out of Donegal from short kick-outs. But Dublin will be a different kettle of fish.

Up front for Mayo all eyes will be on O'Shea who has been tossing full backs aside all summer on his way to bagging goal after goal. Even if Dublin do manage to shut down O'Shea, Cillian O'Connor is as clinical and talented as any forward in the game and the Ballintubber man will be ready to shine.

It is going to be a fascinating encounter, and hopefully we will be looking forward to another one on September 20.

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