Mayo head to Croke Park undefeated after their two opening games in this year's National Football League. A draw against Donegal on the opening day was followed up by the hard-fought win on the road against Monaghan a fortnight ago.
Having three points on the board after those two games is a good start for James Horan’s side, but they know they will be facing a serious test against a wounded Dublin side, who, not only are still stung by losing last year's All Ireland semi-final to Mayo - but also by their poor start to this year's league campaign, which sees them pointless, following defeats by Armagh and Kerry in their two opening games.
While Mayo finally got over the line against Dublin last year in the championship after a number of near misses in the decade before, they are waiting equally as long for a win against them in the league - having last beaten them in competition in 2012, in a game that was re-fixed after it had to be abandoned initially due to fog. When it comes to beating Dublin in Croke Park in the league, you’ve to go back much further back, with the last time Mayo beat Dublin in this venue being in the league semi-final in 1971.
James Horan knows that Dublin will be itching to get back to winning ways when Mayo come to Croke Park on Saturday evening, having lost their first two games. He said: “I think Armagh hit them and would have hit anybody cold on the first night. I think they are in terrific shape, they are a good team and they are running on top of the ground this time of the year, so they would catch you; and you saw the second game, they would catch anyone cold - they were particularly good in that first game and Dublin weren’t.
“I know Kerry knocked up a big score against them the last day, we were watching the game. I think Dublin were incredibly unlucky in the first 20 minutes of that game. I know exactly what Dessie (Farrell ) was thinking on the sideline.
“The goal went against them, they had another goal chance that they just butchered and the goal that Kerry got that created the avalanche, was definitely a Dublin ball; a few things like that went against them and there was a big swing; their confidence might have ran a little bit after that, but up to that I thought Dublin were quite good.
“They are probably not as far off as people think and I am sure they are relishing us going up there, to get their season going; they’ll see it as a huge chance, but we love going up there playing and love playing Dublin, it will be a good encounter for sure.”
So far this season Mayo have yet to put in a full 70-minute performance, but it is something that they are well capable of doing and it is something they build their training sessions around, Horan added: "Yah absolutely, it is and we design our sessions around that. I think sometimes, if you go back to the league games last year against Westmeath and Clare, we played excellent football for 35 minutes and then, either just our focus might go a little bit and then you end up having to chase it a little bit, which is harder than playing consistently.
“Gaelic football, you can break it down, and there are loads of little natural breaks in Gaelic football where you can breath it, you can reset it, get going. Absolutely, the game we are strong at, you can play that for 70 or 80 minutes if there is a consistent application across it and that is where we are going.”
As to whether there is a different kind of preparation needed to take on a side like Dublin, Horan doesn’t believe so, saying at this time of the year it is about focusing on getting his team right, more so than focusing exclusively on the opposition.
“I don’t think you have a different mindset playing Dublin, we have played Donegal sort of away in Sligo, they are a very good team, you had Monaghan up in Monaghan, you have to prepare very hard for that.
“Dublin in Croker is a game you will look forward to, but the preparation will be very similar, the opposition analysis at this time of the year, of course it is there, but you are focusing so much on where you are at and where you need to develop and where you need to go and that is where we will be for the league; the majority of the time we will have a look at the opposition of course and lots of new players there of course, but it will be predominantly on getting ourselves right.”
Horan also said that he expects Matthew Ruane to be back in contention for the game after serving a two-game suspension following his red card in last year's All Ireland Final. Others he hopes to see back in contention for the game include Enda Hession, Oisin Mullin, James Car and Jack Carney, after his club commitments came to an end a few weeks a go. Kevin McLoughlin is another who is back in training for Mayo after taking an extended break over the first few weeks of the year after his exploits with Knockmore came to an end.
Dublin themselves will also be hoping to see the likes of Con O’Callaghan, Paddy Small, Mick Fitzsimons, Eoghan Murchain and James McCarthy back for them for Saturday night's game, with none of those experienced players having played any part in their league campaign so far.