There is huge excitement and anticipation ahead of next Sunday’s All-Ireland football final. The stakes are massive for both counties.
For Mayo it is yet another opportunity to finally end the pain of big defeats in colossal games in Croke Park. There have been too many. However, this Sunday’s starting team, as a collective unit, does not bear those scars, and their steadfast and supremely loyal supporters are once again starting to believe this Sunday is indeed their time.
For Dublin and their calculating and meticulous management team, led superbly by Jim Gavin, Sunday represents an opportunity for immortality in the sport.
A potential five All-Irelands in seven seasons would definitely rank them up with the great Kerry team of the late 1970s and early 80s, and would give added credibility to the claim that they are indeed the GOAT (greatest of all time team ) in Gaelic football.
They have real strengths that set them apart from the chasing pack.
Cluxton simply the best
In Stephen Cluxton, Dublin have the best goalkeeper in the history of the game. A defence is the foundation of a team’s success and belief, and the number one building block has to be the man between the sticks.
Go back to his stunning winning free in 2011 when they beat Kerry by 1-12 to 1-11 in the All-Ireland final and look at his consistency and understated brilliance since then.
His professional approach is legendary and he works incredibly hard at staying the best in the country.
The fact that he is the first man at Dublin training every evening and one of the last to leave, is one of the reasons that he could stay playing top level inter-county football for another few years if he so wishes. A frightening prospect.
His coolness and sangfroid under pressure is replicated by Cian O’Sullivan, Johnny Cooper, Philly McMahon and Michael Fitzsimons, who have all proved their worth in the hot heat of battle in Croke Park on All-Ireland final days.
Super ball players and mobility
A team manager cannot do much without top quality players and Jim Gavin has a awesome panel from which to select
Many of his current subs would be the main men on almost all other county teams. His options of the bench against Tyrone were top-class and ominous from a Mayo perspective this weekend.
Paul Flynn, Kevin McManamon, Diarmuid Connolly, Bernard Brogan, Eoghan O’ Gara and Michael Darragh MacCauley – all All-Ireland medal holders and most of them All-Stars, with the odd player of the year thrown in for good measure.
These players are the real-deal and can be massive game changers as Kevin McManamon has regularly shown in the past, most notably against Kerry.
Their experience and desire to collect a fifth All-Ireland medal will make them dangerous opponents, and no doubt all of them will have at least 20/25 minutes of action to make an impact, with Flynn even being touted as a potential starter.
Mayo do not have such options off the bench, but then, no team has.
The interchangeability of their players highlights their skills set, as evidenced by how James McCarthy has thrived since he has moved out to the middle of the park.
His Rolls Royce engine is ideally suited to covering ground and he will be a crucial player for them if they are going to beat Mayo.
The raw pace and stamina of the returned Jack McCaffrey is frightening to watch, and the way he burned off a few Tyrone players on his sallies will have marked him out a guy that Mayo have to try to track.
Kevin McLoughlin is a fine player, but he will have his work cut out keeping tabs on the UCD medical student.
The conductor of Dublin’s attack is Ciaran Kilkenny, and Mayo need to do a man-marking job on him.
He goes where he is needed and links play for his team. He rarely wastes or loses the ball and his decision making is top-class.
Kilkenny needs to be stopped and maybe Lee Keegan or Colm Boyle will be handed that job.
Young Con O’Callaghan has been a revelation since he has come onto the team this year and his display against Tyrone justified his “King Con” moniker.
In Dean Rock they have one of the most consistent and best free-takers in the country and a player who has really improved his overall game in the past few seasons.
His incremental improvement year on year is the ideal example of how the Dubs have worked at improving themselves – individually and collectively - and why they are potentially just one game away from doing something that has not been achieved since 1978-79-80.
Of course Mayo can win on Sunday. It is a two horse race, but they have not beaten Dublin in either league or championship since 2012.
To do so, they will have to do something special.
They had a brilliant chance to beat Dublin last September and they did not take it.
Dublin have not been tested really this seasons and Mayo are sure to test them to the core.
However, in the final 10 minutes when Dublin run their bench, they will have the men who have answered the tough questions before, and they are likely to do so again.