Old rivals set to showdown once again

GAA: All Ireland Senior Football Championship

On the ball: Paddy Durcan will have a key role for Mayo tomorrow. Photo: Sportsfile

On the ball: Paddy Durcan will have a key role for Mayo tomorrow. Photo: Sportsfile

You would imagine there is very little more than can be written about Mayo and Dublin's rivalry over the past seven years.

They have met so often in crunch games the rivalry has become one of the blockbuster events in the GAA calendar come summer time. It is a fiercely contested battle on the field each time - but unfortunately for the green and red corner, in all of their seven meetings to date from the 2012 All Ireland semi-final, Mayo have only managed to win one of them - the first meeting back in the semi-final seven years ago during James Horan's second year in charge in his first stint as manager.

Since then they have met another six times - two ended in draws in the 2015 All Ireland semi-final and the 2016 All Ireland final, with Dublin winning the other four. On a purely score-keeping exercise of wins and losses - it doesn't look like that much of a rivalry - but that doesn't even tell half of the story.

Three of Dublin's four wins have come by the slimmest of margins, just a point separated the sides in the 2013 All Ireland final, again in the replay of the final in 2016 and in their last championship meeting, coming once again in the final in 2017.

Dublin won the 2015 All Ireland semi-final replay in 2015 by seven points, but even in that game it was still neck-and-neck with 20 minutes to go until Dublin pulled away.

So they meet again on Saturday - this time with a place in the final up for grabs as Dublin continue their push for a historic five-in-a-row - triggering huge demand for tickets this week from both sets of supporters and even those outside of the two competing counties.

Just when it looked like Mayo's bad run of luck with injuries was coming to an end - they were dealt another hammer-blow last weekend when Jason Doherty was ruled out for the rest of the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, which was confirmed by Mayo GAA earlier this week.

Mayo had been bolstered by the return to action of both Paddy Durcan and Keith Higgins to the starting 15 against Donegal, while Matthew Ruane got his first game time late on as a sub, after recovering from a broken collar bone - while the most pleasing return to the green and red colours was the inclusion of Tom Parsons on the bench for his first outing since a serious knee injury in the 2018 Connacht championship against Galway. While Parsons didn't see any game time - the potential of the Charlestown man having a part to play tomorrow is one that will get the Mayo faithful up on their feet in Croke Park.

David Clarke missed out last time through a rib injury, but the Ballina man is hoped to be available for selection - while Diarmuid O'Connor had a setback in his return from his broken wrist in the lead-up to the Donegal game - but could also come into the reckoning tomorrow for the winner-takes-all clash.

If the walking wounded are ready for action - it will present James Horan with a welcome headache of who to pick in his starting 15 for the game. Rob Hennelly came in for Clarke in goal last weekend and performed well - will Horan stick with him or, if Clarke is fit for action, will he give the nod to the two-time All Star?

Eoin O'Donoghue has been named to start in a number of recent games, but has fallen out of the starting 15 ahead of throw-in. The Belmullet man got into the game early last weekend after Keith Higgins picked up a black card - and did his chances of starting the game no harm - but in place of whom?

In the middle of the park last weekend, both Aidan and Seamus O'Shea put in top class shifts, but will they be as effective in the wide open expanses of Croke Park against Dublin? Ruane and the younger O'Shea formed a formidable partnership in the league and looked nailed on to be Mayo's midfield pairing for the year ahead, until Ruane picked up his injury - could he get the nod to keep track with one of Dublin's flying midfielders of Brian Fenton and Michael Darragh Maculey or could Parsons even start?

With Doherty out, a serious question that Mayo will be pondering all week is who will fill the void left by the Burrishoole man? If Diarmuid O'Connor is ready to go, he could slot in there and run the forward line. Andy Moran started on the bench - but was quickly whisked into the fray when things weren't going for Darren Coen and he had another impressive outing; Moran will want to start - but having him as bench option is something Horan has favoured this year for a bit and Mayo probably need him finishing the game when things are in the melting pot - as he showed with his two late points last Saturday.

At the back, who Mayo will match up on Dublin's danger men is something that everyone will have their eyes glued on come throw-in time. Niall Scully, Ciaran Kilkenny, Brian Howard, Con O'Callaghan, Paul Mannion and Dean Rock are a 'Murderer's Row' of a forward line - capable of tearing the best sides in the country apart - who Horan matches up on who - will be key in deciding the outcome of this one.

Lee Keegan has done good jobs on Ciaran Kilkenny and famously Diarmuid Connolly in the past and last weekend matched up well against Michael Murphy. But it's not just the nominal forwards that Mayo have to keep an eye on, with Jack McCaffrey so often the ace in the pack for Dublin from the half-back line. After his brilliant job on Ryan McHugh last weekend, Paddy Durcan could be deployed on him in the Mayo half-forward line and along with being able to mark him, would give McCaffrey plenty to think about on the back foot; or if Durcan is needed further back the field, Keith Higgins could be tasked with keeping pace with McCaffrey and also provide an attacking outlet for Mayo to keep McCaffrey on his toes.

No matter what teams are announced before the game - we'll only know the real line-ups minutes before throw-in for what really is the biggest show in town this weekend.

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