"We’ll be competitive and we’ll be looking for a performance every day that we go out and we can be honest in ourselves and we did ourselves and the county proud and we’re going the right direction towards what our goals will be.” That's what Stephen Rochford said back in December 2015 — two days after he was appointed Mayo manager. While there have been days when things haven't quite gone to plan they have always been "honest" in themselves as a team and that's what has brought them to where they are right now, 70 minutes away from their final goal.
Standing in their way is a county that has become their nemesis over the past five years, Mayo haven't beaten Dublin in the championship since the sides met in the 2012 All Ireland semi-final. Since then the Dubs have had the upper hand in the 2013 final, the 2015 semi-final (after a replay ) and the 2016 final (once again after a replay ), even in the league Mayo have failed to best the Dubs since then.
The men from the capital are going for three in a row on Sunday and Jim Gavin has crafted one of the finest football sides seen in the game, but they are not an unbeatable beast. Look at Kerry taking them in the league final and how close Mayo pushed them last year in the final. The game is there for Mayo to win, but they will have to hit the right notes early on up front and lock the door at the back. Dublin have crushed all before them in the championship this year, only Kildare got within two digits of them on the scoreboard in the Lenister final and that was only because of a late, late goal. They took apart the challenge of two of the big beasts of Ulster football in the quarter-final (Monaghan ) and semi-final (Tyrone ) with ease, but Ulster football has fallen back a bit in the pecking order in recent years, despite the protestations you might hear to the contrary from the northern part of the island. Dublin have been good, but they haven't come across a battle hardened side like Mayo this summer and the fact of the matter is that Mayo don't fear them.
Do Dublin have lots of quality, undoubtedly, just look at what they left on their bench out of their starting 15 against Tyrone in their semi-final win. Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly, Kevin McManamon, and Eoghan O'Gara were all deemed only worth a few minutes off the bench, while Bernard Brogan didn't see any game time at all. That's some cavalry to call on. But it's up to Mayo to stop them and get their match-ups right.
Will Diarmuid Connolly start? The smart money is on him not — the neutrals might be disappointed that they won't get another Lee Keegan v Connolly duel to follow as a sideshow the rest of the action. So, what do you do with Keegan? Put him marking Dublin's new young hotshot Con O'Callaghan and see what O'Callaghan is really made of? Or do you put him into the middle of the field and having him go toe to toe with James McCarthy - while either Tom Parsons or Seamus O'Shea picks up Brian Fenton and smother his high fielding, hard running threat?
Who will Mayo put on Jack McCaffrey? The Clontarf man, much like Keegan, is a wing-back who causes so much pain to their opposition on the front foot. Kevin McLoughlin could be the man, or will Rochford throw in Paddy Durcan from the start and let the Castlebar man get to grips with him and allow McLoughlin to try and influence the game in other areas? Ciaran Kilkenny handles more ball in one game than most do in three, so who is tagged to follow him and stop his play-making role is another thing that has to be figured out. Paul Mannion and Paddy Andrews' duty will probably be handed out between Brendan Harrision and Keith Higgins, but who will join them in Mayo's full back line? Hardly Aidan O'Shea this time — but using the big Breaffy man between his own half back line and midfield is an option to be considered — if he picks up ball and drives at Dublin Mayo could get some serious rewards. Can Andy Moran and Jason Doherty keep up their excellent form in the summer and continue to keep some of the scoring pressure off Cillian O'Connor and give Mayo that extra edge they'll need on the scoreboard? It's all so fascinating, the more people you ask, the less sure you become of anything about this game, but it has the ingredients to be a classic.
Of course, you also have the kick-out issue to figure out from both sides. Push up on Dublin's and leave one-one or space for runners to break into or give it up to them short and let them build from the back. Does David Clarke go short, even if Mayo are under pressure to win the ball, or does he stick it down the field and let Parsons and O'Shea battle it with Fenton and McCarthy in the sky and hope that Mayo's half-backs and half-forwards are able to scoop up the breaks? We'll all find out on Sunday afternoon.